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COA: Man needed to submit claim under Wage Claims Statute

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An employee’s status at the time he or she files the claim is the relevant inquiry in determining whether he or she proceeds under the Wage Payment Statute or the Wage Claims Statute, ruled the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Robert and Keisha Hollis, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, sued Defender Security Co., alleging Defender had violated the Wage Payment Statute by failing to pay agreed wages in a timely fashion. Several months earlier, Robert was “involuntarily separated” from Defender. The trial court dismissed Robert’s claims. Only his claims are at issue in this interlocutory appeal.

The Wage Payment Statute and Wage Claims Statute both deal with wage disputes, but involve different categories of claimants. The Wage Payment Statute refers to current employees and those who have voluntarily left employment. The Wage Claims Statute refers to employees who have been separated from work by their employer and employees whose work has been suspended as a result of an industrial dispute.

In Robert Hollis, et al. v. Defender Security Company, No. 49A02-1004-PL-464, Robert argued his claims shouldn’t have been dismissed because they were brought under the Wage Payment Statute so he wasn’t required to submit them to the Department of Labor. Based on St. Vincent Hosp. & Health Care Ctr. Inc. v. Steele, 766 N.E.2d 699, 704 (Ind. 2002), he claimed which statute to proceed under depends on the employee’s status when the claim accrues as opposed to the employee’s status when he or she files the claim.

Robert argued it is irrelevant that he was involuntarily separated from Defender before he filed his complaint because he wasn’t alleging a violation of the Wage Claims Statute. The judges interpreted his argument to be that an employee who was involuntarily separated would have to file a complaint based on the Wage Payment Statute for alleged violations that occurred prior to the separation. An employee would then submit a separate claim with the DOL under the Wage Claims Statute for alleged violations that occurred during the final pay period.

The judges determined that the relevant inquiry is to the status of the employee at the time he or she filed the claim as to what statute he or she should proceed under, Judge Michael Barnes wrote.

“Robert was involuntarily separated from Defender when he filed his claims and, as such, his claims fell under the Wage Claims Statute. Instead of submitting his claims to the DOL, as required by Wage Claims Statute, Robert improperly filed a complaint based on the Wage Payment Statute,” he wrote. “Because Robert did not allege any Wage Claims Statute violations and submit his claims to the DOL, the trial court properly dismissed Robert’s claims.”
 

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