Federal Workers Can Press Back Pay Case Over 2019 Shut Down

December 3, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – Thousands of federal employees can proceed with a class act in which they claim they were forced to work without pay during the 35-day partial government shutdown that extended from late 2018 to early 2019.

“The claims brought by plaintiffs in this case are straightforward FLSA minimum wage and overtime claims under the [Fair Labor Standards Act],” Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims said in her ruling issued Tuesday.

Campbell-Smith rejected the government’s claim that it was prohibited from paying employees during the partial shutdown by the Anti-Deficiency Act, which it said, made it a crime to pay the plaintiffs during the five-week lapse in appropriations.

On Tuesday Campbell rejected this assertion, concluding that the budget-focused law doesn’t automatically waive the government’s obligations to make timely payments to employees.

Though the employees were eventually paid, they contend they experienced pain and suffering due to the delay in their getting their paychecks and should be awarded damages.

She did, however, keep the door open to a possible showing by the government that it acted in “good faith” when it failed to pay the workers on time.

“The court declines to rule at this time on the issue of whether the defendant can establish a good faith defense against liability for liquidated damages in this case,” the judge wrote.

Campbell-Smith set a deadline of Jan. 29 for the government to respond to the suit.

The longest shutdown in U.S. history stemmed from an impasse over President Donald Trump’s demand that Congress appropriate more than $5 billion for one of his most high-profile campaign promises — the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

If the employees do win the suit, they would each be entitled to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour for the time they worked, or about $1,160 if they worked the full shutdown period, plus overtime.

The latest developments in the case came as lawmakers on Capitol Hill and the White House try to come up with a new spending plan, at least for the beginning of next year. Congress’s current short-term spending bill expires on Dec. 11. 

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