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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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