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Judges reduce award of damages to fired school employee

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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that a fired bus driver and custodian for Peru Community Schools is entitled to damages for wrongful termination, but not the $175,000 a jury awarded him.

Gary Grant was a school bus driver with a yearly contract and an at-will custodian for the school corporation. He would drive the bus during the day and work as the custodian after his afternoon route ended. He was fired from both positions during the 2007-08 school year after nearly 24 years of employment. Grant sued for wrongful termination and a jury awarded him nearly $175,000 in damages. Peru Community Schools appealed the denial of its motions for summary judgment and judgment on the evidence, as well as the admission of evidence regarding Grant’s salary as a school bus driver and custodian until he turns 65.

The trial court denied the schools’ motion for judgment on the evidence regarding Grant’s employment as an at-will custodian, which was an error, the appellate court held. There is no substantial evidence that Grant relied on these letters to his detriment, which is required to defeat the presumption of at-will employment, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik in Peru School Corp. a/k/a Peru Comm. Schools v. Gary Grant v. Peru School Corp. a/k/a Peru Comm. Schools and Stanley Hall, No. 52A04-1107-PL-352. Grant argued that for years, he received letters from the school corporation thanking him for his services “as a bus driver” and providing “reasonable assurance” that he would be employed for the upcoming school year. He argued that his employment in both jobs were linked from the beginning and believed these letters guaranteed him a job as a bus driver and custodian in the upcoming school year.

But regarding his employment as a contracted school bus driver, the COA found there to be a genuine issue of material fact as to why Grant was fired as he denied one of the two grounds for termination. In addition, cause is required to fire an employee with a contract with a definite term, and the facts were heavily disputed as to whether cause existed, so the trial court properly allowed this issue to go before the jury to resolve.

The appellate judges reduced the amount of damages Grant will receive to $2,422.82, which is the remainder of his salary as a school bus driver for the 2007-08 school year, minus the $1,800 in unemployment he received. Because the trial court should have granted judgment on the evidence for the school system regarding Grant’s termination of employment as an at-will custodian, he’s only entitled to damages regarding his firing from his school bus driver position.

 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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