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Severance pay cannot be used to waive workers comp claim: Court

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A severance payment issued to an injured worker who was terminated from his job cannot be used to waive his workers compensation claim, the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled.

Stephen J. Leonetti worked 28 years for chemical maker MacDermid Inc., court records show. He injured his back at work in June 2004, filed for workers comp in April 2005, and was terminated from his job in November 2009.

Mr. Leonetti was required to sign a termination agreement to receive 27 weeks of severance pay from MacDermid, or $70,228.51, records show. The agreement required Mr. Leonetti to release MacDermid from “any and all suits, claims, costs (and) demands,” including workers comp claims.

Mr. Leonetti ultimately signed the agreement in order to receive his severance. However, a Connecticut workers comp commissioner found that the agreement represented only Mr. Leonetti’s salary, and could not be used to settle his workers comp claim.

The state Workers’ Compensation Review Board affirmed the commissioner’s decision, and MacDermid appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court. MacDermid claimed in part that Mr. Leonetti voluntarily entered into the termination agreement, and that the agreement complied with Connecticut’s workers comp law.

A six-judge panel of the high court unanimously upheld the workers comp board decision on Friday. In its opinion, the court said that Mr. Leonetti’s termination agreement could not be used to settle his workers comp claim because it was not approved by a Connecticut workers comp commissioner. It also agreed that Mr. Leonetti’s severance pay did not consider workers comp benefits that were due to him.

The court noted that Mr. Leonetti only signed the termination agreement to receive his severance pay, and that MacDermid had failed to negotiate with him about keeping his workers comp claim open in spite of his termination.

“The unwillingness of (MacDermid) to engage in meaningful attempts to amicably resolve the claimant’s concerns regarding his undisputed workers compensation claim demonstrates the need in our society for the protection afforded to employees by the (workers comp) act,” the opinion reads.