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Court clarifies, reaffirms its prior back pay ruling

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The Indiana Court of Appeals denied an Attorney General’s request to clarify a previous ruling that slashed a $42.4 million damages award, and clarified the two-month period from which state employees can recover back pay.

In a rehearing opinion issued today in Richmond State Hospital, et al. v. Paula Brattain, Francis Ernst, et al., No. 49A02-0908-CV-718, the appellate court briefly clarified but mostly affirmed its Oct. 8 ruling in the case that impacts thousands of past and present state workers trying to recover money they should have earned on the job. The state appellate judges had previously reversed one part of a Marion Superior judge’s decision from last year that some of those employees could recover back pay for a period from 1973 to 1993, holding that the period should only extend from 10 days before the filing on July 29, 1993, to mid-September 1993.

The trial court on remand must determine whether the state terminated the split class system on either Sept. 12 or Sept. 19, 1993, according to that prior decision and today’s rehearing ruling. Estimated damages for merit-based employees have gone from $23.5 million to an estimated couple million dollars, while the remaining $18.6 million awarded to non-merit employees would not be affected by the appellate rulings.

In a footnote, Judge Terry Crone wrote that “The Employees argue that the State had the burden to prove that each individual employee did not file an administrative grievance as part of its statute of limitations defense, which is an affirmative defense. We disagree. Access to the courts and the amount of back pay to which a successful litigant is entitled are two separate issues.”

Now, parties have the chance to seek transfer before the Indiana Supreme Court to possibly come out with a different result on part or all of the intermediate appellate rulings.

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