When the Democratic members of the Indiana House of Representatives boycotted the session in order to prevent a quorum and stall Republican initiatives of which they disapproved, the House imposed fines against them for failing to attend. However, they also went a step further and collected those fines by means of submitting a pay grid to the State Auditor that deducted the amount of the fines from the pay of the offending members. This appeared to be in violation of IC 22-2-4 (Wage Payment Statute), IC 22-2-8-1 (prohibiting an employer from imposing fines and deducting them from a paycheck), and IC 22-2-6 (regulating assignments of wages).
In Berry v. Crawford, a 3-2 majority of the Indiana Supreme Court has declined to say whether the withholding was or was not in violation of these statutes because it’s a legislative matter and, therefore, separation of powers prevents the judiciary from interfering. I agree with that proposition on the issue of whether the fines were properly imposed. I find the court’s reasoning unpersuasive when dealing with the more mundane issue of debt collection. For example, if Speaker Bosma had broken into Pat Bauer’s house and grabbed handfuls of cash to pay the debt, I doubt the judiciary would regard itself as powerless to interfere? I can’t blame them too much for ducking the question though. Following the letter of those laws and leaving the Democrats with triple damages plus attorney’s fees (less the amount of the fines) – turning a profit from the exercise – would have been a political shit storm.
Updated to add a bit more detail on the idea of triple damages:
An employer who violates the wage payment statute winds up owing an employee three times the amount of the wages due. IC 22-2-5-2 adds, in addition to the base wages due, liquidated damages of 10% per day late capped at double the wages plus attorney’s fees. So, after twenty days, an employer would owe the base wage plus 200% of the wages.
I figure the way it would have worked is that the violation of the Wage Payment statute would have been triple damages, but the fines themselves would still be valid and the legislators would have had to pay that back. After paying the fine, the bolting legislators would have ended up with double the money.