The Cat's Paw Theory. A phrase which might seem like a whimsical anecdote. But it's not so whimsical when you are being sued on the basis of it. Empress Ambulance found out the actual meaning behind this phrase after being sued by a former employee. The plaintiff had been fired after the employers were persuaded to do so by another employee, (wrongful termination).
Cat's Paw Theory in Action
In the case of Vasquez v. Empress Ambulance, the former employee of Empress Ambulance, Andrea Vasquez, filed a lawsuit against Empress Ambulance for retaliation when she was fired after reporting her co-worker for sexual harassment. Instead of taking action against the harasser, the employers let go of Vasquez. Her harasser had turned the situation around to make it look like she was, in fact, the one committing sexual harassment.
The Cat's Paw Theory originates from a fable in which a monkey tricks a cat into retrieving some chestnuts from fire for both of them to eat. When the cat does so, he burns his paws and is unable to eat the chestnuts while the monkey enjoys them without any injury. Here the “cat's paw approach” applies to Empress Ambulance on the basis that they let themselves be coerced into dismissing the claims of sexual harassment that Vasquez made and instead of believing Gray, the person who the allegations were against.
When Vasquez first reported Tyrell Gray to her supervisors, she was assured that the behavior was not tolerated by the company, and something would be done to stop it.
While she waited for the issue to be investigated, Mr. Gray found out about the complaint and decided to figure out a way to avoid getting in trouble for his harassing behavior.
First, he tried to persuade another fellow EMT to lie for him, but when that did not work he manipulated an inappropriate and sexually explicit conversation on his phone to appear as if Vasquez was the replying party.
When he was questioned he had the evidence ready and told his supervisors that Vasquez and he were in consensual relationship. This prompted their supervisors to fire Vasquez due to the “evidence” Gray showed.
Vasquez tried to dispute his allegations and show her own phone to prove that it was not true, but she was turned down. The subsequent case is based on the fact that their supervisors never fully investigated the initial complaint, or considered the issues with Gray's quick evidence, and were so willing to blindly believe what he presented.
Even though the case had originally not been accepted by the District Court of New York, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals accepted the case on the basis that “an employee's retaliatory intent may be imputed to an employer where, as alleged here, the employer's own negligence gives effect to the employee's retaliatory animus and causes the victim to suffer an adverse employment decision.”
This means that even though the decision was made by a supervisor, the harasser was able to influence the decision with his false accusations and evidence, which the employers did not take the proper precautions to investigate. Nor did they look further into the intent that Gray had – making them negligent in their decision.
The court concluded this due to the fact that the supervisors at Empress Ambulance should have given more thought into the evidence that Gray was handing over, as well as how quickly he did it when he was told that a sexual harassment claim had been made against him.
Typically, anyone who learns that a negative claim has been made against them would deny it or have a bigger reaction. Empress should have been more diligent and thorough with their investigation. If they had taken the time to properly investigate this and look at the evidence that Vasquez showed, they would have been able to avoid this lawsuit and not made to look as though they are incapable of proper management.