Court rules nurse pay plan proper

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The Court of Appeals ruled today Indiana's restructured pay plan for nurses was rational and proper, reversing the judgment of the trial court.

In Madison State Hospital, Indiana Family & Social Services Administration, and State Personnel Department V. Karen L. Ferguson, 09A04-0703-CV-259, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's award of relief to Karen Ferguson. Ferguson, a Nurse Supervisor 5 at Madison State Hospital, and six other nurse supervisors, filed separate complaints with the State Employee Appeals Commission, arguing the 2000 pay scale for nurse supervisors and night nurses was improper because night nurses were being paid more despite the fact nurse supervisors would supervise them.

The pay range for nurse supervisors in 2000 was $43,316 to $60,320 and night nurses $49,036 to $65,356. The state had a difficult time attracting and retaining night nurses, so it increased their pay to more than what a nurse supervisor typically made.

The SEAC consolidated all the complaints and an administrative law judge ruled in favor of the nurse supervisors.

The state appealed, and the SEAC reversed the administrative law judge's ruling. The complainants sought judicial review of the SEAC ruling, and the trial court reversed the decision and remanded to the agency.

All the nurses settled with the state except Ferguson, who filed a second petition for judicial review in May 2006. Ferguson believed the SEAC erroneously found in the state's favor on remand. The trial court then ruled in her favor in January 2007 and again remanded to the SEAC. In February 2007, the state filed notice of its appeal of the trial court's ruling.

The Court of Appeals ruled even though nurse supervisors and night nurses are considered by the state in the same category, the state presented sufficient evidence to support its pay plan. The state collected data from national and local market surveys to determine how much to pay night nurses to work in Indiana. Turnover was not high for nurse supervisors, and even though they too received a raise with the revised pay scale, it was not as high as the pay for night nurses. The Court of Appeals decided the SEAC did not abuse its discretion or act arbitrarily by denying Ferguson's petition and agreed raising the salaries for night nurses above the nurse supervisor's pay is rational and appropriate for the state to do.

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