Indiana ranks low for civil rights

Kevin Betz & Elizabeth llov

Hoosier employees who want to bring a civil rights suit against their employer for discrimination face an insurmountable set of obstacles. To get a trial, the employee and the employer must agree in writing to submit the case to a judge. Most employers who have been accused of discrimination prefer to keep the matter out of court and refuse to consent to a trial. We were unable to find any case where an Indiana civil rights case has ever gone to trial under Indiana law. This is a testament to our State’s meaningless laws and the total void of any leadership in our State on this issue. Even if the employee can get the employer to consent, there is still no right to a jury trial. Even if the victim prevails in a trial before a judge or administrative proceeding, the damages are so limited it is a worthless undertaking.

Instead of passing meaningful civil rights legislation, our legislature continues to divert the public focus from civil rights issues. For example, our state legislature has recently lamented a court ruling that prohibits the invocation of “Jesus Christ” at the beginning of daily sessions. The legislators have protested publicly this alleged violation of their own religious freedoms, but these same legislators have failed to pass any legislation to give Indiana citizens religious freedoms in the workplace. Another example of the sad twist on civil rights in Indiana concerns tobacco legislation. If an Indiana citizen is the victim of discrimination because he uses tobacco, he’s entitled to a full set of remedies: jury trial, complete damages, and attorney fees. However, if that same citizen becomes the target of discrimination based on race, religion, gender, or age, she has no right to a jury trial or meaningful remedies. Our state’s laws clearly reveal that Indiana legislators are concerned about their own religious freedoms, but not those of the general public. The legislature is more concerned about protecting an individual’s right to smoke than protecting an individual who experiences discrimination.

According to a recent report conducted by the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, a service-based human rights organization, Indiana earned a D+ for its overall treatment of its own citizens, resulting in an overall ranking of 8th out of 8 in Midwestern states. The grading scale only involved eight Midwest states, which are far less progressive than many East coast and West coast states, and still, Indiana came in last. This report evaluated human rights in the Midwest according to the same scale used internationally. Indiana also won the title as the only state in the Midwest to actually receive an F in one of the human rights categories evaluated.

As for employment issues, Indiana’s wage discrimination — the fact that a black man earns less per hour than a white man, and that a female earns less than a male — earned our state a grade of C-.

This report revealed yet another example of Indiana’s value of symbolism over substance. When the researchers evaluated the existence of laws and entities monitoring compliance with those laws, Indiana faired well. However, when researchers evaluated the depth of these protections, Indiana received another F.

Companies seeking to hire are fleeing to other states where the citizens are protected by better civil rights laws. Most civil rights lawyers in other states prefer to pursue cases under their states’ civil rights laws because the federal law is so inadequate. In Indiana, however, these inadequate federal laws are simply the only protection individuals have. In Ohio, victims of discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin can recover damages that include lost income and benefits, reinstatement, emotional distress damages, punitive damages and attorney fees and costs. There are no caps on emotional distress and punitive damages like those imposed under federal law. Unlike Indiana where damages are so limited that an individual still faces a loss emotionally and financially, Ohio law attempts to fully compensate the victim. An Ohio civil rights claimant can also seek a jury trial in his or her own state’s court system.

Indiana citizens also fare poorly in worker’s compensation. According to recent statistics from the US Chamber of Commerce’s Analysis of Worker’s Compensation Laws comparing compensation amounts in four Midwest states, Indiana provided by far the worst compensation for injuries. For example, an Indiana worker who loses a thumb on the job is compensated $11,200.00, whereas this same injury would merit $32,597.00 in Illinois, $34,020.00 in Ohio, and $37,700.00 in Michigan. Clearly, other state legislatures want to protect their citizens and workers, whereas the Indiana legislature has apparently placed other concerns above the rights and safety of its workers. Has this alleged “pro-business” policy helped our State’s economy? Just the opposite is true.

Weak employee protections hurt Indiana. Employers and taxpayers are hurt because qualified employees go to other states with broader employee protections, employees are hurt by the lack of protections, and the economy suffers while technology and other much-needed firms settle into other states with more attractive laws for workers.

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