Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Indiana
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The Supreme Court vacated a portion of the court of appeals opinion affirming the judgment of the trial court denying Appellant's petition for judicial review of the summary judgment granted by the State Employees' Appeals Commission (SEAC) against Appellant on his claim that his alleged protected activity was related to his termination, holding that the court of appeals reached too broad a conclusion to resolve the issue in this case.Appellant appealed his termination, claiming he was a protected whistleblower. SEAC dismissed the complaint, but the superior court reversed. On remand, SEAC granted summary judgment in favor of Appellant's employer. Appellant sought judicial review, claiming that most of his employer's arguments were barred by the law-of-the-case doctrine. The trial court denied the petition, concluding that the law-of-the-case doctrine did not apply. The court of appeals affirmed, agreeing that the law-of-the-case doctrine did not apply but going further to find that the law-of-the-case doctrine "is applicable only when an appellate court determines a legal issue, not a trial court." The Supreme Court vacated that portion of the court of appeals' opinion and otherwise affirmed, holding that the court of appeals need not have reached so broad a conclusion to resolve the issue. View "Brown v. Indiana Department of Environmental Management" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's grant of summary judgment for Defendant and dismissing Plaintiff's wrongful termination claim, holding that the record did not support summary judgment in this case.Plaintiff, a former at-will employee working as a police officer, was allegedly terminated for stealing food from the cafeteria. In this action, Plaintiff alleged that the true reason for his termination was adverse testimony he gave in an unemployment compensation appeal hearing on behalf of a former coworker. In granting summary judgment for Defendant, the trial court concluded that because Plaintiff was not subpoenaed to testify, his testimony did not fall within the public policy exception to at-will employment, which would have barred his firing. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) even though Plaintiff was not provided a paper subpoena before testifying, he was constructively compelled to testify once he was at the hearing; and (2) therefore, Plaintiff's testimony was protected under the public policy exception to at-will employment. View "Perkins v. Memorial Hospital of South Bend" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment in this action by an employer against several of its former employees and their new employer for alleged violations of the former employees' noncompetition and non-solicitation agreements, holding that the liquidated damages provisions in the employees' contracts were unenforceable and that there remained an issue of material fact precluding summary judgment as to the employer's tortious interference claims.The employer in this case brought claims against its former employees, including tortious interference with a contractual relationship and breach of contract claims. The trial court (1) granted summary judgment for the former employees on the issue of liquidated damages, finding that the liquidated damages provisions in the employees' contracts were unenforceable as a matter of law; and (2) found that there were issues of material fact regarding precluding summary judgment on the breach of contract claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the liquidated damages provisions were unenforceable penalties; and (2) an issue of material fact remained as to the employer's tortious interference with a contractual relationship claim. View "American Consulting, Inc. v. Hannum Wagle & Cline Engineering, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Liability Administrative Law Judge (LALJ) concluding that Driver was Q.D.-A.’s employee under the Unemployment Compensation Act, holding that because Q.D.-A. proved the Act’s three part test, Driver was an independent contractor.Q.D.-A., which matches drivers with customers who need large vehicles driven to them, classified its drivers as independent contractors and did not pay unemployment taxes for them under the Act. The Act presumes a worker is an employee unless the employer proves three factors. Driver in this case filed for unemployment benefits under the Act, and the Department of Workforce Development classified Driver as an employee. The LALJ affirmed the Department’s classification. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the LAJL unreasonably concluded that Driver was Q.D.-A.’s employee when Driver was not under Q.D.-A.’s control or direction, performed a service outside Q.D.-A.’s usual course of business, and ran an independently established business. View "Q.D.-A., Inc. v. Indiana Department of Workforce Development" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court finding that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s wrongful termination complaint against the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and that Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Specifically, Plaintiff claimed that the Department violated the whistleblower provision of the Indiana False Claims and Whistleblower Protection Act, Ind. Code 5-11-5.5. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the complaint, holding (1) the State did not waived sovereign immunity in this case because the whistleblower provision of the Act does not clearly evince the legislature’s intention to subject the State for violations of the Act; but (2) the dismissal should have been without prejudice to Plaintiff filing an amended complaint. View "Esserman v. Indiana Department of Environmental Management" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reaffirmed the holding in Tindall v. Enderle, 320 N.E.2d 764 (Ind. 1974), which established that when an employer admits that an employee was acting within the course and scope of his or her employment, absent special circumstances, the employer may only be held liable under the doctrine of respondent superior, and negligent hiring claims are precluded.Amanda Parker was killed while she was delivering pizzas for 2JR Pizza Enterprises, LLC (Pizza Hut). Hamblin’s Estate filed a wrongful death suit against Pizza Hut, alleging that Hamblin’s death was directly and proximately caused by Pizza Hut’s negligent hiring, training, and/or supervision of Parker and that Pizza Hut was liable for Parker’s negligence under the doctrine of respondent superior. The trial court granted partial summary judgment dismissing the Estate’s negligent hiring claim because it admitted Parker was acting within the course and scope of her employment, thus allowing only the negligence claim under the doctrine of respondent superior to proceed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that respondent superior and negligent hiring claims may not be brought simultaneously when an employer admits that an employee was acting with the course and scope of his or her employment. View "Sedam v. 2JR Pizza Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Carlton Curry was appointed as superintendent of Lawrence Utilities, the City of Lawrence’s municipally owned water and sewer utility. Just over two years later, Dean Jessup was elected as mayor of the City in the general election. Mayor Jessup terminated Curry after their differences in policy became apparent. Curry filed a complaint against the City, claiming he was wrongfully discharged under the utility superintendent statute, he was owned unpaid wages under the Wage Payment Statute, and the mayor tortiously interfered with his employment contract. The trial court (1) granted summary judgment in favor of Curry on the wrongful discharge claim, (2) granted summary judgment in favor of the City on the Wage Payment Statute claim, and (3) denied summary judgment on the tortious interference claim. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court in all respects, holding (1) Mayor Jessup lacked authority to remove Curry as the utility service board superintendent; (2) Curry was not entitled to wages under the Wage Payment Statute; and (3) a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding Curry’s claim for intentional interference with an employment relationship. View "City of Lawrence Utilites Service Board v. Curry" on Justia Law

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Pursuant to 2011 amendments to statutes addressing collective bargaining for teachers and their employees, when parties failed to reach a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) regarding salaries and wages, the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board (IEERB) appoints a mediator. If the mediation fails, the parties must exchange their last best offers (LBOs). A factfinder appointed by the IEERB then selects which side’s LBO to adopt as the CBA. In this case, a teachers association appealed a factfinder’s decision to adopt a school’s LBO. The IEERB affirmed the factfinder’s decision. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the adopted LBO was collectively bargained and lawful. View "Jay Classroom Teachers Ass’n v. Jay School Corp." on Justia Law

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In this employment termination discrimination case, Plaintiff claimed, inter alia, that he had been harassed, discriminated, and retaliated against on the basis of his sex. The trial court granted summary judgment to Plaintiff’s former employer as to Plaintiff’s federal and state constitutional claims and as to Plaintiff’s retaliation claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court granted transfer and summarily affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals with respect to the federal and state constitutional claims. As to the retaliation claim, the Supreme Court held (1) to prevail on summary judgment on a claim for retaliation under Indiana procedural law, it is an employer’s burden to affirmatively negate the plaintiff’s claim, not the plaintiff’s burden to make a prima facie case of Title VII retaliation; and (2) the employer in this case satisfied its burden on summary judgment to affirmatively negate Plaintiff’s retaliation claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. View "Gaff v. Indiana-Purdue Univ. of Fort Wayne" on Justia Law

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James Armour’s employment contract with AM General LLC entitled him to payment of a long-term incentive plan (LTIP). When Armour retired, he was to receive a lump sum LTIP payment, but instead he started receiving quarterly installment payments in the form of checks. AM General attempted to make the final installment payment with a subordinate promissory note. Armour rejected the Note and requested full payment. Thereafter, AM General filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment that it had not breached the LTIP portion of its agreement with Armour. Armour counterclaimed, asserting that AM General breached the employment agreement by failing to pay Armour the full LTIP payment when it was due and claiming that, by attempting to pay the remaining portion of the LTIP payment with a promissory note, AM General breached the duty of good faith and fair dealing. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of Armour. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding a genuine issue of material fact with regard to how “payment” could be made under the LTIP provision of the agreement. The Supreme Court granted transfer and affirmed the grant of summary judgment, holding that AM General breached its employment agreement with Armour because the Note did not constitute payment under the employment agreement. View "AM General LLC v. Armour" on Justia Law