Coca-Cola “cat’s paw” subordinate bias case dismissed on settlement week before Sup. Ct. arguments

I’ve written before about the fascinating subordinate bias case that was scheduled for Supreme Court arguments this coming week:

The “Question Presented” as stated in the Supreme Court docket was:

Under what circumstances is an employer liable under
federal anti-discrimination laws based on a subordinate’s
discriminatory animus, where the person(s) who actually made the
adverse employment decision admittedly harbored no discriminatory
motive toward the impacted employee.

Now comes news of a last-minute settlement:

An employment discrimination case scheduled for oral argument at the US Supreme Court on April 18, 2007 has been settled and dismissed. The case is BCI Coca-Cola Bottling Co. v. EEOC , Supreme Court Docket No. 06-341. . . .

The Supreme Court may address the issue in another case for which there is a petition for certiorari pending concerning the same issue. . . . Additionally, the Supreme Court is considering whether to hear a case where this issue was touched upon briefly in the appellate court’s decision.

Supreme Court Case Concerning Subordinate Bias Settles

The case was a toughie, because the facts were bad, and it looks like the parties and amici (pl. amicus curiae) were taking somewhat extreme positions as a result.

Business organizations weighed in behind [the employer], saying in legal briefs that a company cannot be blamed for possibly racially motivated conduct by a low-level supervisor who has no authority to discipline workers.

“Employers are not social insurers and should not be held liable for every frolic and detour of their employees,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in papers filed with the Supreme Court.

No one would ever prevail in court against this type of employment discrimination if the justices had embraced the business community’s view of the law, says University of Washington law professor Eric Schnapper. He was among the lawyers filing a brief on behalf of the National Employment Lawyers Association and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc. – Supreme Court Asked to Dismiss Major Employment Case a Week Before Arguments

Actually, it’s not entirely clear at this point whether there was a settlement. A spokesperson for the company declined to comment on the reason for the dismissal, stating the case “has been remanded back to the United States District Court, District of New Mexico for further proceedings.”

The original appeal had been from a district court order granting summary judgment for the company, and the Tenth Circuit had reversed this order. So the status on remand would appear to be that the case would continue towards trial.

But it is likely that there is an agreement to then dismiss the case at the district court level pursuant to some settlement terms, which, given the facts and outcome at the 10th Circuit, would likely be quite favorable to the plaintiff. I would expect settlement terms to be announced by the EEOC, which was a party and which normally publicizes its settlements, but they haven’t been yet.


  1. Thats really strange.. Ive not experienced anything like that.

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