The Kentucky Court of Appeals issued a rare “published” decision on Friday granting a new protection for those who manage employees in Kentucky. In Cowing v. Commare, the Kentucky Court of Appeals determined that individual managers cannot be sued under Kentucky’s employment discrimination laws.
This is a significant victory for two reasons. First, it severely limits the personal liability of individual supervisors for routine employment decisions that they must make on a daily basis. Second, it forecloses a strategy often used by plaintiffs to avoid federal court.
Plaintiff, Charles Cowing, was an aircraft mechanic at Lockheed Martin. Andy Commare was a supervisor at Lockheed Martin, although he was not Cowing’s supervisor. Cowing fell and took a medical leave of absence. Eventually, Cowing was released to return to work, but with lengthy work restrictions relating to his ability to squat, stand, lift, walk, and move while rotating at the midsection. When Cowing returned to work, Commare saw him working in the hangar. He told Cowing that he needed to be cleared by the Medical Office and Human Resources first. After a series of discussions and meetings, Lockheed Martin determined that it could not accommodate Cowing’s work restrictions.
Cowing filed suit against both Lockheed Martin and Commare in state court. Cowing alleged that Lockheed Martin had discriminated against him and that Commare had “aided and abetted” Lockheed Martin’s alleged discrimination by blocking his return to work from medical leave.
Lockheed Martin and Commare asked the trial court to dismiss Commare from the case, arguing that Commare’s actions could not be separated from Lockheed Martin’s employment decisions based on the “intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine.” The trial court accepted this argument, and the Kentucky Court of Appeals agreed. The Court of Appeals reasoned that this “doctrine is the logical extension of our rules that ‘a corporation can only act through its agents’ and that a conspiracy involves ‘two or more persons.’”
Unless this decision is reversed by the Kentucky Supreme Court, Kentucky employees are limited to pursuing their discrimination claims against their employer. They may not sue their managers.