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Justices slash amount non-merit state employees can get in back pay

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The Indiana Supreme Court has adjusted the time frame for which state non-merit employees who sued for back pay may be able to recover funds. Instead of the period going back some 20 years, the justices decided the non-merit employee’s time period should be the same as merit employees.

In Richmond State Hospital and All Other Similarly Situated State Institutions and Agencies v. Paula Brattain, et al., No. 49S02-1106-CV-327, state workers sued to recover back pay for unequal wages earned between 1973 and 1993. There were four subclasses of workers – merit overtime-exempt; merit overtime-eligible; non-merit overtime-exempt; and non-merit overtime-eligible. Those who worked 40 hours sought back pay because they were paid the same amount as those who worked 37.5 hours.

Marion Superior Judge John Hanley ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded them $42.4 million in 2009, but the Indiana Court of Appeals significantly reduced that amount in October 2010. The COA held that the merit employees were only able to recover for a period 10 days before the class-action suit was filed in July 1993 to when the split-class system was abolished in September. The judges didn’t alter the lower court ruling regarding the non-merit employees, in which the trial court held they are owed back pay for a period of time ending the day the state eliminated the split-pay system and going back 20 years. That meant the non-merit employees could get nearly $19 million dollars as compared to the couple million dollars the merit employees were eligible to receive.

Justice Frank Sullivan did not participate in the case. The high court summarily affirmed the COA with respect to its determination on the merit employees’ claims. Addressing the state’s claim that laches should bar the employees’ claims outright, the justices rejected it regarding the merit employees. But they found that it does apply to the non-merit employees’ claims.

The state began the split-pay system in 1967, and the non-merit sub-class representatives began working for the state in 1969. The merit employees initiated the lawsuit in 1993, but it wasn’t until February 2002 that the non-merit employees were added.

“While we think the Attorney General’s contention that laches should bar all claims by all claimants goes a bridge too far, we conclude that the inordinate delay as respects the non-merit claims—filed by amendment forty-five years after they arose—warrants limitation on the damages as to these claims only,” wrote the justices.

The justices ordered the trial court recalculate the non-merit employees’ back pay judgment based upon the same time period as the merit employees.

 

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