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Decision making theories of retaliation

Katlyn S Farnum, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


In 2013, the Supreme Court decided, in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v Nassar, that Title VII retaliation claims should be interpreted under the stricter but-for causality instructions. This requires claims of retaliation to show that the plaintiff’s discrimination complaint (or involvement in a discrimination claim) is the direct cause of the adverse action, as compared to a motivating factor that is required under the less strict motivating factor causal instructions. The current research examines the role of regulatory focus (promotion v. prevention), causal instructions, employment action (promotion v. dismissal), and number of claims considered on both juror (Study 1 and Study 2) and employer (Study 3) decision making. In line with previous research, jurors in Study 1 and 2 found for the plaintiff more often under mixed motive instructions but for the defendant more often under but-for instructions for retaliation claims. Study 3 did not find effects of causal instructions but did support previous research that people are more likely to take harsher actions for acts of omission (denying a promotion) than acts of commission (dismissing from a job). Implications for psychological theory, policy, law, and future research are discussed.

Subject Area

Behavioral psychology|Law|Social psychology|Cognitive psychology

Recommended Citation

Farnum, Katlyn S, "Decision making theories of retaliation" (2016). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10101031.