Legal Issues and Lawsuits and Employment Law and Indiana Supreme Court and Courts and Law

State Supreme Court won’t hear ex-Chamber director’s case

September 12, 2012

A former executive director of the Greater Brownsburg Chamber of Commerce has run out of legal options in his attempt to collect nearly $100,000 in compensation he claimed the organization owed him.

Walter B. Duncan’s request that the Indiana Supreme Court hear his case that he lost at the appellate court level was rejected by justices Tuesday.

Duncan’s beef with the Brownsburg Chamber stems from his forced resignation as executive director in March 2010, and his claim that the organization owed him $94,377.93 in unpaid wages and benefits.

He signed a three-year contract in March 2009, retroactive to January 2009, and had about 21 months remaining on the deal at his termination.

Duncan sued the Chamber in Hendricks Superior Court for breach of contract, charging that the agency should have paid him for the entirety of the contract. As executive director, he earned an annual salary of $50,400.

The Chamber instead compensated Duncan $15,507.69 for one week of work and three weeks of vacation after he agreed to resign.

A Hendricks County judge in July 2011 ruled in favor of the Chamber, but not before rejecting a legal move by both the Chamber and Duncan to avoid trial through a summary judgment.

Both Duncan and the Chamber appealed the decision. A panel of state appellate court judges in April came to the same conclusion as the trial judge, but said she should have indeed granted the Chamber’s motion and avoided trial altogether through a summary judgment.

Relying on a state Supreme Court case dating to 1872, the appellate judges agreed that the Chamber need only compensate Duncan for a 30-day period following the termination for “convenience” notice, pursuant to the terms of the contract, and not for the entirety of the deal.

“We have little hesitation in explicitly adopting the proposition, and therefore do not accept Duncan’s argument, which, if adopted, would entitle him to what could only be called the windfall of being compensated for the remainder of the contract term—for services he did not provide—as though he had never been terminated,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote.

Further, by their calculations, the judges said the Chamber overpaid Duncan and should have compensated Duncan $14,775.63 instead of $15,507.69.

The Chamber operates on a tight budget, and a ruling in Duncan’s favor would have been financially “devastating,” said Matthew Dumas, the Chamber’s lawyer. Dumas declined to say how much the Chamber spent in legal fees to fight Duncan.

Chamber directors terminated Duncan during a March 18, 2010, meeting by a 10-2 vote. Board meeting minutes showed the dismissal stemmed from the fact that “significant friction and resistance continues to prevent the smooth and efficient operations of the Chamber.”

Following the meeting, two directors informed Duncan of his termination at a McDonald’s restaurant and gave him the option to resign.
 

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