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The Indiana Supreme Court recently decided what could prove to be a landmark decision on the doctrine of laches in Richmond State Hospital v. Brattain, Cause No. 49S02-1106-CV-327. If you are dealing with a case involving laches, this decision is a must read.

In this class action, employees who worked in "state institutions" claimed that the State had breached its contractual duty to provide equal pay for equal work by requiring that they work 40 hours per week for the same pay as employees in "state offices" who were only required to work 37.5 hours per week. The trial court found in favor of the employees and awarded 20 years of back pay, amounting to $42,422,788. The Court of Appeals reduced that award substantially by limiting back pay to a few months for merit employees but for non-merit employees, affirmed a recovery for 20 years of damages or about $18.7 million.

The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer and then failed to reach a majority on numerous issues, dividing 2-2. Justice Sullivan did not participate, presumably because he served as State Budget Director during the period in dispute. As a result of the 2-2 split, the Supreme Court summarily affirmed the Court of Appeals on the merit employees' claims. As to the non-merit employees, the Supreme Court was able to reach a consensus, largely in favor of the State's laches defense.

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