MacDermid v. Leonetti
An employer who alleges that a former employee engaged in civil theft and conversion may not be absolutely immune from the former employee's counterclaim, in which the employee alleges that the employer retaliated, because the employee exercised rights under the Workers' Compensation Act. Allegedly, the plaintiff employer, MacDermid Inc., offered its former employee, the defendant, Stephen Leonetti, a $70,000 severance package, provided that Leonetti waived any claim to future workers' compensation. Leonetti allegedly accepted the severance package. MacDermid sued Leonetti, alleging civil theft and conversion and requested the return of the severance payment, because Leonetti allegedly did not comply with the requirement that he waive future workers' compensation. Leonetti filed a counterclaim, alleging that MacDermid wrongly retaliated, because he exercised his rights under the Workers' Compensation Act. MacDermid moved to dismiss the counterclaim, which alleged that MacDermid violated Connecticut General Statutes §31-290a, and argued it was absolutely immune from Leonetti's retaliation claim. The Connecticut Supreme Court has recognized absolute immunity as a result of participation in the judicial process. Whether immunity applies in a particular case requires a balancing of interests. The Superior Court did not find any Connecticut decisions directly on point, in which a worker alleged workers' compensation retaliation as a result of an employer's suit, and the employer alleged it was absolutely immune. Connecticut encourages access to courts. The Workers' Compensation Act permits workers to allege that employers engaged in retaliatory conduct as a result of the workers' pursuit of benefits. The Workers' Compensation Act has a broad, remedial purpose that reflects the state's public policy that workers be allowed to request workers' compensation without reprisal or retaliation. Ruling on an issue of apparent first impression in Connecticut, the court was not persuaded that absolute immunity bars the former employee's counterclaim. The former employee's allegations are similar to an abuse-of-process claim. The employee should have the same recourse as a defendant who asserts abuse of process. The potential for other workers to file retaliation claims similar to that of the defendant is extremely restricted. The court denied the employer's motion to dismiss the workers' compensation retaliation counterclaim.