TREAT v. TOM KELLEY BUICK PONTIAC GMC, INC. (July 13, 2011)

The Kelley Automotive Group operates a number of car dealerships, including Tom Kelley Buick Pontiac GMC ("Kelley") in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Kelley hired Jill Treat and her son Cody in July of 2006. Kelley fired them both three months later. The Treats brought a multi-count complaint against Kelley, including a claim for unpaid wages under the Indiana Wage Payment Statute. Judge Lee (N.D. Ind.) granted summary judgment to Kelley. The Treats appeal.

In their opinion, Circuit Judges Tinder and Hamilton and District Judge Murphy affirmed. The Court addressed two similar Indiana wage recovery statutes. The Wage Payment Statute dictates the frequency of wage payments, addresses the situation if an employee leaves a job voluntarily, and allows a person to recover in any court with jurisdiction the amount of wages due and liquidated damages. The Indiana Wage Claims Statute addresses the situation where an employer discharges an employee. In the case of a wage dispute, the Commissioner of Labor is required to enforce the law, to institute actions for penalties, and to refer a claim to the Attorney General, who can initiate a claim on behalf of the claimant. The remedy under the Claims statute is the same as the remedy under the Payment statute. The Indiana Supreme Court has stated, in dicta, that the statutes are mutually exclusive. The Payment statute applies to individuals still employed or who voluntarily resigned. The Claims statute applies to individuals who were fired. However, the Treats’ complaint raises issues that arose during their employment as well as after their termination. Although one Indiana appellate case supports the Treats' position, the Court predicted that the Indiana Supreme Court would conclude that a person’s status at the time of the claim would govern. Here, the Treats filed a claim after they were terminated by Kelley. Therefore, their appropriate remedy was under the Claims statute, not the Payment statute.