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I’d heard the phrase “cat’s paw” before, but I confess I really didn’t know what it meant. It conjured up in my mind something cute and cuddly, a kitten batting around a ball of yarn. But that’s not what it means at all. When I started to see references to “cat’s paw” in employment discrimination cases, most notably in the Supreme Court’s decision in Staub v. Proctor Hosp. (2011), I wanted to understand where this phrase came from and what it meant. Turns out “cat’s paw” derives from an Aesop fable in which a monkey uses flattery to persuade a cat to pull hot chestnuts from the fire. “I would gladly get the chestnuts from the fire,” says the cunning monkey, “but you are much more skillful at such things than I am, and if you pull them out, I’ll divide them between us.” When the cat does so, it burns its paw, and the monkey takes all of the chestnuts for itself. See en.wiktionary.org/wiki/cat’s-paw. (I can’t resist one example quoted in Wiktionary, from Raymond Chandler’s 1939 novel The Big Sleep (Penguin 2011, p. 243): “Eddie Mars was behind Geiger, protecting him and using him for a cat’s-paw.”)
It seems that every recent Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) related conference I have attended has played the same message: EEO enforcement in the workplace has increased. So, if you think that you have noticed more activity by federal and state investigators in the investigation of charges of discrimination, an increase in OFCCP audits or more EEOC litigation and findings of probable cause from the MCAD - you’re not the only one.
Holiday parties can be a great opportunity for employees to celebrate and blow off some steam after a long year. They can also present opportunities for claims of harassment, discrimination, and liability for the company. These can arise from excessive drinking, sexual advances, off-color or inappropriate jokes, even arguments and fistfights. Here are some tips for keeping your holiday party incident-free:
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