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Supreme Court: Hospital punished worker for being in Army Reserves

Vincent Staub said he was fired from his hospital job because his supervisors were hostile to his responsibilities in the Army Reserves. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in his favor Tuesday.

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Vincent Staub said his supervisor scheduled him for different shifts without notice as payback for the department having to work around Mr. Staub’s reserve training schedule. Another supervisor called Staub’s reserve obligations 'a bunch of smoking and joking and a waste of taxpayers’ money.”'

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The US Supreme Court on Tuesday embraced a broad reading of a federal law designed to bar workplace discrimination against current or former members of the US armed forces.

The high court ruled 8 to 0 in favor of a former hospital lab technician who said he was fired from his job at a Peoria, Ill., hospital because his supervisors were hostile to his responsibilities as a member of the US Army Reserves.

Vincent Staub said his supervisor scheduled him for different shifts without notice as payback for the department having to work around Mr. Staub’s reserve training schedule. Another supervisor called Staub’s reserve obligations “a bunch of smoking and joking and a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

Eventually, Staub was fired, but the actual termination decision was made by someone other than his immediate supervisors, potentially insulating that decision from the alleged discrimination of his immediate bosses.

The question in the case was whether Staub, a 15-year employee of the Proctor Hospital, could file a lawsuit under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) of 1994.

A jury awarded Staub $57,640 in damages after finding that he lost his job because of his military service. He has served in the Army Reserves since 1984 and was called to active duty in 2003 to train soldiers for deployment in radiology units in field hospitals in Iraq.

A federal appeals court overturned the jury verdict, ruling that Proctor Hospital could not be held liable for the discrimination of the supervisors because the decision to fire him was made by someone else considering an array of factors.

In reversing that decision, the Supreme Court said the appeals court erred in concluding that the case must be dismissed. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said it would be up to the lower courts to decide whether to grant a new trial or reinstate Staub’s jury verdict.

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“We ... hold that if a supervisor performs an act motivated by antimilitary animus that is intended by the supervisor to cause an adverse employment action, and if that act is a proximate cause of the ultimate employment action, then the employer is liable under USERRA,” Justice Scalia said.

Although Tuesday’s decision applies to USERRA, Scalia noted that the law is similar to a key civil rights law, Title VII. His comment suggests that the principles established in Staub’s case would also apply in cases involving discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Justice Elena Kagan took no part in the case because it arose while she was US solicitor general.


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