Assault, Battery, and Outrage in the Workplace
Ex parte Lincare Inc. and Angela Stewart: The Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusivity provision precludes a claim against the employer for an employee’s willful conduct.
On August 19, 2016, the Supreme Court of Alabama decided Ex parte Lincare Inc. and Angela Stewart [Ms. 1141373], — So.3d — (Ala. 2016), pursuant to a writ of mandamus filed by Lincare and its employee Angela Stewart, after the Jefferson County Circuit Court denied their motion to dismiss tort claims alleged against them by Lincare’s former employee Sandra Martin.
At the time of the underlying incident, Stewart was Martin’s supervisor at Lincare. Martin resigned on June 6, 2014, alleging that she was resigning because Stewart created a difficult work environment, and Lincare (despite being made aware by Martin of Stewart’s treatment of subordinate employees) had made no efforts to resolve the problem. Martin alleged that after submitting her letter of resignation, Stewart confronted her about some paperwork, forcibly removed paperwork from Martin’s hand, and began to choke, assault, and physically attack Martin. Thereafter, Martin made a worker’s compensation claim against Lincare for injuries she alleges were caused by Stewart, made claims for outrage and assault-and-battery against both Stewart and Lincare.
Stewart and Lincare moved to sever the workers’ compensation claim; dismiss the tort claims against Lincare as being subject to the exclusivity provision contained in the Workers’ Compensation Act (Alabama Code § 25-5-52); contended that as pertained to the outrage claim against Stewart, Martin had failed to state a complaint upon which relief could be granted; and finally, argued that subject to her employment agreement, Martin had waived her right to a jury trial. The trial court severed the workers’ compensation claim for trial purposes, and struck the jury demand for the work workers’ compensation claim. It denied Lincare and Stewart’s motion to dismiss the other claims, and further denied their motion to strike the jury demand.
Subsequent to the writ of mandamus, the Supreme Court of Alabama decided the following issues:
(1) Whether Martin’s tort claims against Lincare were subsumed by the Workers’ Compensation Act
The Alabama Supreme Court found that Martin’s tort claims against Lincare, including outrage and assault and battery, were barred by the exclusivity provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act. Under the act, if a personal injury results from the willful conduct of one employee against another employee, the injured employee has a cause of action again the employee, but not the employer. See Ala. Code § 25-5-11. Martin alleged and the Supreme Court agreed that Stewart’s alleged actions were willful and intentional conduct, as defined by the act: “[I]f a person, with knowledge of the danger or peril to another, consciously pursues a course of conduct with a design, intent, and purpose of inflicting injury, then he or she is guilty of ‘willful conduct.'” Ala. Code § 25-5-11. The fact that Martin had resigned immediately prior to the alleged incident had no bearing on its analysis.
(2) Whether Martin’s outrage claim against Stewart should be dismissed
The Alabama Supreme Court found that it did not have authority to review by mandamus the trial court’s denial of Stewart’s motion to dismiss the outrage claim.
(3) Whether Martin was entitled to a jury trial on her claims against Stewart
The Alabama Supreme Court held that the employment agreement between Lincare and Martin, in which Martin waived her right to a jury trial to resolve any claims arising out of her employment, did not include Stewart as a party to the contract. Nor was there sufficient basis for construing Stewart as an intended third-party beneficiary of the jury waiver. Therefore, there was no basis to strike Martin’s jury demand as to her claims against Stewart.
Artwork by Darwin Bell.