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COA upholds judgment in favor of employer in wrongful termination suit

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Indiana Department of Insurance in a lawsuit filed by a former employee claiming wrongful termination.

In Paul K. Ogden v. Stephen Robertson, et al., No. 49A05-1101-CT-45, Paul Ogden was hired in November 2006 as a division manger in the title division of IDOI. His job was classified as a grade executive broad band position. He worked under the supervision of chief deputy commissioner Carol Mihalik. Within months, Ogden verbalized frustrations to Commissioner James Atterholt regarding Mihalik’s supervision.

At one point, there was confusion over the preparation of insurance bulletins, and Ogden interpreted his conversation with Atterholt to mean that he was to work around Mihalik to develop the bulletins. Mihalik sent Ogden a “counseling letter” in September 2007, claiming he violated IDOI polices in drafting the bulletins and that she and Atterholt need to see bulletins before they are disseminated. The letter was not classified as a disciplinary measure.

Ogden also met with State Personnel Department employees to file a formal complaint against Mihalik alleging many violations, including personnel and legal ones. An investigation was opened. Ogden also sent a memorandum to Atterholt asking that the Title Insurance Division be removed from Mihalik’s unit so that it could operate under a different chief deputy and that the division be moved to a different floor.

As a result of the letter, Ogden was given two options by IDOI officials – resign or be terminated for being “out of line” requesting reorganization of the division. Ogden agreed to resign. He then filed the suit alleging violations of the First and 14th amendments, Article I, Section 9 of the Indiana Constitution, the Whistleblower Law, Indiana Code 4-15-10-5, and state due process. The trial court granted summary judgment to the IDOI defendants, finding that the Whistleblower Law provided no private cause of action for which Ogden could seek relief through a civil lawsuit, Ogden’s memorandum wasn’t protected speech under the state constitution, and that memorandum was not the motivating factor in his forced resignation.

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld summary judgment, finding that the memorandum wasn’t protected speech under the Indiana Constitution; that Ogden wasn’t entitled to due process protections under Indiana personnel policy and Executive Order 05-14, which addresses when an employee may file a complaint regarding dismissal; and that the trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over his claim that he was wrongfully terminated.

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