Patel v. Flexo Converters U.S.A., Inc.
In the 1979 case of Jett v. Dunlap, the Supreme Court announced a narrow exception to the exclusivity provision of the Workers' Compensation Act for intentional torts committed by an employer or fellow employee "identified as the alter ego of the corporation…" and the alter ego test is stringent. Rajanikant Patel brought suit alleging injuries sustained at the paper bag manufacturing facility of his employer, the defendant Flexo Converters U.S.A., Inc., while attempting to dislodge a bag jammed in a machine he was operating during the night shift. The plaintiff alleged that his injuries resulted from the defendant's modifying the machine by disabling a safety feature and that the night supervisor, Charles Milsaps, instructed the plaintiff to reach into the machine to dislodge jammed bags while the machine was operating and threatened his job if he shut down the machine or failed to produce 90 bags per minute. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant and Milsaps were substantially certain that this practice would lead to serious injury and that Milsaps' position made him the defendant's alter ego, such that his intentional torts could be attributed to the defendant. The trial court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed claiming that the court improperly granted summary judgment based on the exclusive remedy provision of the Workers' Compensation Act, C.G.S. §31-284, when there was a disputed issue of material fact as to whether Milsaps was the defendant's alter ego for the intentional tort exception. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. Whether a supervisor is the employer's alter ego is a question of fact to be determined by the supervisor's role in the employer's corporate structure. The standard requires that the corporation, functionally speaking, have no separate existence from the alter ego who controls and dominates the corporation's affairs. The defendant submitted an affidavit asserting that Milsaps "was not authorized to make policy for [the defendant] regarding machine operation and employees' interaction therewith." The plaintiff submitted no evidence creating a disputed issue of material fact that would have supported a reverse piercing of the defendant's corporate veil as required under the standard in Jett. Evidence of Milsaps' managerial role did not establish the existence of a material fact as to his identity as the defendant's alter ego.