Supreme Court Ruling Affects Employers

employee screening blogMost employers know that federal law requires them to allow military reservists to take time off for training and service obligations—and most comply, even when losing an employee is difficult on the business.

But one reservist was fired from his job, sued his employer, and won. And the U.S. Supreme Court this week ruled in his favor in an employment discrimination case. The case was brought by Vincent Staub, an Army Reserve first sergeant, who was fired from his job after 15 years as a hospital angiograph technician.

Staub had no problems for the first ten years working at the hospital. But starting in 2000, a new supervisor would schedule him to work during times he was supposed to be at reserve training.

Then in 2005, Staub was called to active duty. Soon after, his supervisor accused him of violating a company rule and issued a disciplinary action against him. When he was fired, he sued the hospital. He alleged that his immediate supervisors were hostile to his military service and that they made false allegations upon receiving notification of his call to active duty.

Staub won his initial suit, but a federal appeals court threw out the award, ruling that the hospital could not be held liable because the decision to fire him was made not by his immediate supervisors, but by the VP of human resources, who had no such hostility to the military.

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, reversed this decision, saying the liability for firing cannot be separated from a supervisor simply by giving the responsibility to a higher-up member of the management team. The justices ruled that discrimination did take place and cause an adverse employment decision.

This ruling could have far-reaching effects, encompassing discrimination claims based on race, gender and religion. Some employers have sought to protect themselves from such suits by putting final decision-making authority in an HR department; the Supreme Court ruling clearly states that this will no longer be a viable option.

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