Cat's paw case needs cat's paw jury instruction

cats paw.jpg

Ossanna v. Nike (Oregon Ct App 01/31/2018) [PDF] is a bit complex, so let's simplify things. Douglas Ossanna was fired from his job. The employer said it was due to misconduct, and Ossanna said it was because he had been complaining about some safety issues.

Ossanna's argument at trial was that the individual who made the decision to fire him relied on information received from two subordinates who harbored a motive to retaliate against him because of his safety complaints. This is the famous "cat's paw" argument – that the decisionmaker may have had pure motives, but relied on information from subordinates whose motives were improper.

Ossanna wanted the trial judge to give the jury an instruction on the cat's paw theory, but the judge refused. The jury returned a verdict for the employer, and Ossanna appealed.

On appeal, the Oregon Court of Appeals surveyed the statutes and prior cases, and concluded that "Because the cat’s paw or subordinate bias theory is the law in Oregon, plaintiff’s proposed instruction was a correct statement of law."

And then the court reversed, having concluded that a cat's paw instruction should have been given, saying:

"Without a cat’s paw instruction, the jury would not understand that it could find a causal link between [the subordinates'] wrongful motives and [the decisionmaker's] employment decision based solely upon the influence that those individuals had on the decision, whether or not [the decisionmaker] shared their motive in her decision to terminate plaintiff."

P.S. This case was argued and submitted on June 28, 2016, and was decided on January 31, 2018 – one year and seven months later. Go figure.