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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ind. Decisions - "Judge rules state workers owed $42 million" [Updated]

Updating this ILB entry from April 1st, Jon Murray reports this afternoon:

A Marion County judge today issued a $42.4 million ruling against the state of Indiana in a class-action lawsuit by current and former state workers who said they were underpaid for 20 years.
Note that this is the state workers lawsuit for back pay during 1973-1993 period, which went to trial only after (see this March 10th ILB entry) the original settlement fell through ("A settlement agreement announced in August later was abandoned by the state after compensation claims exceeded its $8.5 million threshold.")

Murray's story today continues:

The lawsuit, which has been pending for years, went on trial over four days in March before Marion Superior Court Judge John Hanley. He issued his verdict today.

The $42,422,788 judgment was based on estimates that as many as 15,000 state employees worked 40-hour weeks from 1973 to 1993, yet received the same pay as others in similar jobs who worked only 37.5 hours. The plaintiffs' consultant had estimated total unpaid compensation at $42 million to $82 million.

Hanley's ruling could be a bitter pill for the state amid a recession that complicated negotiations earlier this year over Indiana's $27.8 billion two-year budget.

"This amount will not be widely appreciated for that reason," the judge wrote, but added: "However, these are political considerations and not legal ones. The parties have had numerous opportunities to resolve this litigation over an extended number of years, in good economic times as well as bad, without the necessity of judicial intervention, and they have failed to do so. This decision today is the necessary result of that failure."

The ILB would like to post a copy of the ruling. The version linked to on the Star's site appears to be messed up.

[Updated 6:20 PM] Here is a release on the ruling:

Court Awards $42.4 Million Against State of Indiana

Victory on Behalf of Indiana State Employees Believed to Be Among Largest Class Action Judgments Against State in History

INDIANAPOLIS, July 28 /PRNewswire/ -- An Indiana trial court has awarded more than $42 million to current and former Indiana state employees who were required by the State of Indiana to work 40-hour workweeks from 1973 until 1993 even though other state employees holding the same positions were required by the State to work only 37.5-hour workweeks for exactly the same pay. Judge John Hanley of the Marion Superior Court issued findings of fact, conclusions of law and a judgment earlier this morning.

Suit was filed almost sixteen years ago, on July 29, 1993, when attorneys William A. Hasbrook and John F. Kautzman of Indianapolis-based Ruckelshaus, Kautzman, Blackwell, Bemis & Hasbrook filed the original class action complaint. The crux of the plaintiffs' complaint has from the beginning been that the State was not legally permitted to force state employees in particular job classifications to work 2.5 hours more per week than other state employees in the same job classifications, while still paying them exactly the same pay as their lower-hour counterparts. Sixteen years and one four-day bench trial later, the Indiana court agreed and found in favor of the plaintiffs, awarding $42.4 million in damages for 20 years that the State continued making this unjust demand of certain of its employees.

Over the course of the litigation, the case has been up and down to the Indiana appeals courts numerous times, with the plaintiffs emerging victorious each time. The case had also been overseen by a succession of judges, until Judge Hanley set the case for trial in March of this year.

In 2008, the Ruckelshaus firm brought on Texas-based litigation firm Susman Godfrey LLP as co-trial counsel. Regarding the judgment, Steve Susman of Susman Godfrey said, "The Indiana state employees who are plaintiffs in this case have had to wait an extraordinarily long time for justice. But now that justice has come, these employees should finally be paid the full wage they earned so many years ago." Mr. Hasbrook of the Ruckelshaus firm said, "We thank our class representatives, all class members, and the Indiana State Employees Association for their patience and dedication in seeing the case through to this judgment. We are extremely pleased that the Court has validated the claims of Indiana's hard-working State employees."

The $42.4 million dollar judgment is believed to be among the largest class action judgments against the State of Indiana in its history.

The plaintiff class was represented by Mr. Susman and two of his colleagues from Susman Godfrey, Jonathan Bridges and Stephen Shackelford, Jr., and by Mr. Hasbrook and Mr. Kautzman from the Ruckelshaus firm.

SOURCE Susman Godfrey

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 28, 2009 03:35 PM
Posted to Ind. Trial Ct. Decisions | Indiana Government