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7th Circuit upholds Allen County workers’ comp judgment

May 21, 2018

The Allen County Board of Commissioners cannot be held liable for a former county court employee’s disability claims because the board was neither his direct nor indirect employer, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.

In Carleton Harris v. Allen County Board of Commissioners, 17-2577, Carleton Harris began working at the Allen County Juvenile Center in 1995, and his employment offer bore the seal of both the Allen Superior Court and the Allen County Board of Commissioners. Nearly 20 years later in September 2013, Harris injured his back after being kicked by an inmate while at work.

Harris was subsequently instructed to seek workers’ compensation benefits as an “Allen County Government” employee, and by May 2014 he had reached maximum medical improvement and was allowed to return to work with restrictions. Those restrictions prevented Harris from returning to his original position as a youth care specialist, but his efforts to seek other employment in the county were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, the county informed Harris that his diagnosis as having reached maximum medical improvement necessitating permanent work restrictions would end his workers’ comp benefits. He was also informed that his unsuccessful attempts to find an appropriate job meant he was no longer a county employee.

In response, Harris filed a complaint against the Superior Court and the Board of Commissioners, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The board moved for summary judgment, which the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana granted after determining the board was not Harris’ employer. Harris later dismissed the Superior Court from the case.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the board on Friday, with Judge Michael Kanne writing for a unanimous panel that Harris did not prove the board “sufficiently controlled his employment,” so it cannot qualify as his indirect employer who can be held liable for his claims.

“Under Indiana’s statutory scheme, the Allen County Board of Commissioners had little, if any, authority to control Harris’s employment,” Kanne wrote. “Instead, the control of Harris’s hiring, firing, day-to-day duties, and salary was statutorily delegated to the Allen Superior Court. Allen County was given only the ministerial duty to pay the Juvenile Center’s expenses.”

“…To be sure, the fact that Harris’s job performance evaluations were titled ‘Allen County Employee Performance Appraisal,’ appears unrelated to Allen County’s statutory duty to pay,” Kanne continued. “But Harris presents no evidence or allegation that the Board rather than the Superior Court, used the document, or that the Board had the ability to terminate or discipline him if his performance evaluation was poor.”

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