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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 sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  2. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  3. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  4. I totally agree with John Smith.

  5. An idea that would harm the public good which is protected by licensing. Might as well abolish doctor and health care professions licensing too. Ridiculous. Unrealistic. Would open the floodgates of mischief and abuse. Even veteranarians are licensed. How has deregulation served the public good in banking, for example? Enough ideology already!

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