In The Monkey and the Cat, an Aesop fable put into verse by 17th century poet Jean de La Fontaine, Betrand the monkey induces Raton the cat to pull roasting chestnuts from the fire, by promising him a share. The cat scoops them from the burning embers one by one, burning his paw in the process, as the monkey gobbles them up. A maid entering the room ends the activity and the cat gets nothing for its pains.
The fable provides the French idiom, “Tirer les marrons du feu” (literally: pulling chestnuts out of fire), meaning to act as someone’s dupe. The English idiom, “a cat’s paw,” is defined as one used unwittingly by another as a tool to accomplish the other’s purposes.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in March 2011, upheld the validity of the cat’s paw concept in the discrimination case, Staub v. Proctor Hospital (131 S.Ct. 1186) in March 2011. The Court ruled that “if a supervisor performs an act motivated by . . . 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.” Continue reading