Federal Employees Sue Government Over Shutdown

A man walks near the U.S. Capitol building before sunrise, on October 17, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Nov. 4, 2013, 11:34 a.m.

Fed­er­al em­ploy­ees who worked dur­ing the gov­ern­ment shut­down are su­ing Uncle Sam for dam­ages be­cause they wer­en’t paid on time.

The class ac­tion law­suit filed by five Bur­eau of Pris­ons em­ploy­ees in the U.S. Court of Fed­er­al Claims al­leges the gov­ern­ment vi­ol­ated the 1938 Fair Labor Stand­ards Act when it delayed full pay for ex­cep­ted em­ploy­ees un­til agen­cies re­opened on Oct. 17. The suit asks the gov­ern­ment to com­pensate ex­cep­ted em­ploy­ees at a rate of $7.25 per hour times the num­ber of hours worked between Oct. 1 and Oct. 5, as well as any ap­plic­able over­time. Em­ploy­ees who worked 8-hour days at that rate for five days would be en­titled to $290 in back pay un­der the law­suit, plus any over­time they are due.

If suc­cess­ful, the plaintiffs would end up re­ceiv­ing double back pay for the trouble the gov­ern­ment shut­down caused them. All gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees, ex­cep­ted and fur­loughed, should have re­ceived their back pay for Oct. 1 through Oct. 5 by now. Em­ploy­ees who re­main on the job dur­ing a shut­down are guar­an­teed back pay by law; Con­gress has to ap­prove back pay for fur­loughed work­ers, which it did for the 16-day shut­down. About 1.3 mil­lion fed­er­al em­ploy­ees were ex­cep­ted dur­ing the shut­down.

The af­fected pay peri­od ran from Sept. 22 through Oct. 5; the gov­ern­ment shut down on Oct. 1, so most fed­er­al ci­vil­ian em­ploy­ees were not paid for Oct. 1 through Oct. 5 in their Oct. 11 paycheck. Mil­it­ary ser­vice mem­bers and many De­fense De­part­ment ci­vil­ians, however, were paid on time dur­ing the gov­ern­ment shut­down. The Pay Our Mil­it­ary Act, which Pres­id­ent Obama signed in­to law on Sept. 30, en­sured that all act­ive-duty and re­serve mem­bers of the armed forces, as well as any ci­vil­ians and con­tract­ors work­ing in sup­port of those forces, were paid on time re­gard­less of the shut­down’s dur­a­tion.

Every­one has been “made whole” at this point, but the plaintiffs in Mar­tin et. al v. The United States ar­gue that the paycheck delay be­cause of the shut­down meant they had trouble pay­ing their bills on time. Mar­tina Cope­land, an ac­count­ing tech­ni­cian who works for the gov­ern­ment, said her fam­ily struggled with pay­ments dur­ing the shut­down. Cope­land, who has three chil­dren and is mar­ried to an­oth­er fed­er­al work­er, par­ti­cip­ated in a press con­fer­ence on Monday or­gan­ized by law­yers at the Wash­ing­ton firm Mehri and Skalet. The firm, which spe­cial­izes in em­ploy­ment dis­crim­in­a­tion cases, is rep­res­ent­ing the fed­er­al em­ploy­ees in Mar­tin et. al v. The United States.

The Fair Labor Stand­ards Act re­quires em­ploy­ers to com­pensate covered nonex­empt em­ploy­ees for any losses they might have suffered as a res­ult of not re­ceiv­ing min­im­um wages or over­time pay on their sched­uled pay day.

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