Former state employees lose appeal in rehire dispute

Former employees of the Indiana Attorney General’s Office and the Indiana Department of Child Services who were listed as ineligible for rehire after being let go did not convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that their dismissed cases against the state deserved reversal.

After being terminated from his position as a senior compliant analyst with the AG’s Office in 2003, John Crouch applied for positions with the Indiana Department of Correction and Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles 15 years later, but with no success. He filed a complaint after he subsequently learned the State Personnel Department had identified him as not eligible for rehire – a designation in the state database, PeopleSoft, he was not notified of.

The same was true for DCS family case manager Pamela Bowling, who, after being let go from her position with DCS and securing a new job with Indiana Professional Management Group, was also released by IPMG. Bowling asserted her new employer was allegedly forced to terminate her because the state would not grant her a PeopleSoft ID to directly access the state’s technology interface.

Without such access, she said, Bowling could not perform her duties as a case manager with IPMG, but the state denied her access because she had also been listed an ineligible for rehire. Like Crouch, Bowling alleged she was never provided notice by the state of the designation.

Both Crouch and Bowling asserted violations of the 14th Amendment and blacklisting in violation of Indiana Code §§ 22-5-3-1(a) and 22-5-3-2. They requested that the court require the state to remove their respective names from any list, database or program that lists them as not eligible for rehire.

Crouch and Bowling also asked the court to enjoin the state from categorizing them or any other employee as not eligible for rehire without first providing notice and an opportunity to be heard, require personnel director Britni Saunders, in her individual capacity, to pay damages, and require the state to pay penal damages for its violation of I.C. 22-5-3-1(a).

In response, the state moved to dismiss the complaints pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6) and a memorandum of law, arguing that the plaintiffs – who had filed separate complaints – had no liberty interest in being rehired by the state, and that the alleged statutes did not apply to their claims.

The Marion Superior Court ultimately dismissed the cases with prejudice, prompting appeals. But the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissals after finding no grounds for reversal.

As to Crouch, the appellate panel first noted that whether a governmental entity is amenable to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 depends on the meaning of the term “person.” The panel found that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that for § 1983 purposes, “person” does not include a state or its administrative agencies.

It next found Crouch did not request injunctive relief or other prospective relief as to Saunders in her official capacity. In regards to her individual capacity, the appellate court noted Crouch only alleged that he “has broad liberty interests protected by the Constitution of the United States, including, but not limited to, the right to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life, and to his good name, reputation, honor and integrity.”

“The complaint does not assert that the designation in the State’s Peoplesoft database was ever made public. Further, Crouch has not alleged that the DOC or BMV requested his personnel file, or that Saunders released his personnel file,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote Thursday in John Crouch v. State of Indiana, Britni Saunders, 19A-CT-1910. “Crouch also does not allege the designation was erroneous or based on false charges or specify a chosen field of employment. Under the circumstances, we cannot say that reversal is warranted.”

Lastly, the COA found it could not say the statute violations alleged by Crouch concerning blacklisting clearly evinces or unequivocally expresses the Legislature’s intention to waive the state’s sovereign immunity under the circumstances.

“As noted, Crouch makes no assertion that the designation was erroneous or based on false charges, and we cannot say reversal is warranted,” Brown concluded.

“With respect to Bowling’s § 1983 claims against the State and Saunders, in her official capacity, we affirm the dismissal of her complaint for the same reasons expressed in Crouch,” Brown wrote in the case of Pamela Bowling v. State of Indiana, Britni Saunders, 19A-CT-1920.

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