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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court posts two additional rulings today, on age discrimination and a judicial disciplinary action

In IDEM v. Lynn West, et al, a 20-page decision many people have been waiting to read, Justice Sullivan writes:

The State Employees’ Appeals Commission (“SEAC”) ordered the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (“IDEM”) to create new positions for three employees who contend they suffered age discrimination in the course of a reorganization of IDEM. Based on our review of the record, we hold that the employees did not make out a prima facie case of age discrimination because they did not show that they had been replaced by significantly younger persons. We also hold that SEAC has no authority to order the Department to create new positions as a remedy. * * *

Having previously granted transfer, we now reverse the trial court’s decision af-firming SEAC’s decision. This case is remanded to the trial court to direct SEAC to dis-miss Employees’ claim.

Shepard, C.J., and Dickson, J, concur.

Boehm, J., concurs in part and dissents in part with separate opinion, which Rucker, J., joins. [Justice Boehm's opinion begins on p. 15]

For the reasons the majority gives, I agree that the State Personnel Act does not authorize SEAC to require IDEM to create positions that do not currently exist.

I do not agree with the majority’s conclusions as to a prima facia case of age discrimination. First, I believe the majority adopts an incorrect view of the law applicable to these facts. The majority adopts the federal burden-shifting approach to Title VII discrimination actions as instructive for Indiana’s State Personnel Act. I agree that the federal approach enunciated in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) should be followed under the Indiana statute. * * * However, I do not believe that the majority opinion correctly describes the federal approach as applied to the facts in this case. Here we are reviewing a claim of age discrimination that was incurred as a result of a consolidation of departments, not a direct termination.

As explained below, in that context, I believe there is no requirement to show replacement by a younger person. As the Seventh Circuit has explained, the focus in claims of discrimination is “whether the plaintiff has established a logical reason to believe that the [employment] decision rests on a legally forbidden ground. That one’s replacement is of another race, sex, or age may help to raise an inference of discrimination, but it is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition.”

The second opinion posted late today is a 14-page "Per Curiam" ruling [but see below] captioned In the Matter of the Honorable James Danikolas, Judge of the Lake Superior Court, Civil Division 3. Some quotes:
The Commission charged Judge Danikolas with violating Canons 1, 2, 2(B), 3(B)(2), and 3(C)(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct by discharging Kris Costa Sakelaris (“Magistrate Sakelaris”) from employment as a Lake Superior Court Magistrate in retaliation for testimony she provided during a previous disciplinary matter brought against Judge Danikolas. The present matter was tried before three Indiana trial court judges appointed to serve as masters in this proceeding. See Ind. Admission & Discipline Rule 25(VIII)(I). Following the trial, the masters filed their “Report of Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation” (hereinafter “Masters’ Report”) with this Court, as provided by Admission and Discipline Rule 25(VIII)(N)(1). Thereafter, the Commission filed its Recommendation; Judge Danikolas filed a Verified Petition for Review, Response to the Commission’s Recommendation, and Brief; and the Commission filed a Reply.

The matter has been tried, fully briefed, and reviewed by this Court. Having considered the evidence and submissions of the parties, along with the Masters’ Report, we concur with the masters that the Commission has proven by clear and convincing evidence that Judge Danikolas committed judicial misconduct. Further, we concur in and adopt the masters’ recommendation that Judge Danikolas be suspended for sixty days without pay. * * *

RUCKER, J., dissents with separate opinion.

I agree with the majority that “[t]he heart of the present case turns on what truly motivated Judge Danikolas to discharge Magistrate Sakelaris.” And because finding a violation of the Canons at issue here is based in large measure on resolving conflicting testimony and assessing witness demeanor and credibility, I agree there is clear and convincing evidence that Judge Danikolas discharged Magistrate Sakelaris in retaliation for her perceived disloyalty during her deposition in Danikolas I. I write separately however to emphasize that but for Judge Danikolas’ position as a judicial officer, his actions in this case would not be sanctionable at all. * * *

I am thus compelled to agree that a sanction is appropriate in this case. However, I disagree that suspension from office without pay for sixty (60) days is warranted. This is far too punitive for conduct that otherwise would merit no sanction whatsoever. In my view a public reprimand is sufficient. On this issue I respectfully dissent.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 6, 2005 04:06 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions