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Judge awards $42 million in back pay suit

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A Marion Superior judge is awarding more than $42.4 million to a class of thousands of former state employees who sued to recover back pay for unequal wages earned between 1973 and 1993.

Issuing a 27-page ruling today in Paula Brattain, et al. v. Richmond State Hospital, et. al., No. 49D11-0108-CP-1309, Marion Superior Judge John Hanley found in favor of four subclasses of plaintiffs who'd sued about 15 years ago and nearly reached a settlement last year.

Their award: $42,422,788.

The class in this suit entails as many as 15,000 former state employees. They wanted compensation for hours they worked but didn't get the same pay as fellow workers - the plaintiffs worked 40 hours a week and were paid the same as those who worked only 37 1/2 hours a week. The case almost reached a settlement last summer for $8.5 million, but that fell through and Judge Hanley held a bench trial in March. Plaintiffs had asked for anywhere between $40 million and $82 million.

Analyzing the four types of "split classes" the plaintiffs fall into depending on where they worked, Judge Hanley awarded $20.9 million to overtime eligible employees within state "merit agencies;" $16.7 million to overtime eligible workers not in merit agencies; $2.7 million to overtime exempt employees in merit agencies; and $1.9 million to overtime exempt employees not at merit agencies.

In his ruling, Judge Hanley noted a recent legislative special session estimate showing Indiana spends approximately $38 million per day every day to operate.

"The Court takes judicial notice of the present economic conditions in this country and the possibility that entry of a judgment in this amount will not be widely appreciated for that reason," the judge wrote. "However, these are political considerations and not legal ones. The parties have had numerous opportunities to resolve this litigation over an extended number of years, in good economic times as well as bad, without the necessity of judicial intervention, and they have failed to do so. This decision today is the necessary result of that failure."

Seeing the ruling today, one of the lead attorneys on the case said he thinks this could be the highest judgment imposed against the state.

"I haven't done the research, but I don't know of any state judgment that's reached this magnitude," said Indianapolis attorney John Kautzman, who worked along with Bill Hasbrook. "This is a tremendous win for the state workers who were discriminated against and have been long overdue to receive this pay. It's been a real journey and test of our patience and determination to keep fighting this for more than two decades. After finally having our day in court, the judge agreed with us."

Kautzman wouldn't comment on the possibility of appeal, but he hopes the state will work to coordinate a payment arrangement for the plaintiffs. He pointed out that "this isn't something that was created by the current administration... we are cognizant of that and don't blame the Daniels administration, but it's now this administration that must rectify the ills of previous administrations."

The Indiana Attorney General's Office is reviewing the ruling and is likely to appeal, according to the agency's public information officer Bryan Corbin.

Look for more on this ruling in the Aug. 5-18, 2009, issue of Indiana Lawyer.

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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