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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. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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