Pay and Benefits Watch: Back pay on the way

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About the time the U.S. Information Agency was allegedly discriminating against women in its hiring practices, the government as a whole was apparently shortchanging workers who were being paid at special rates.

In the discrimination case, USIA was accused of discriminating against 1,100 women from 1974 to 1984. This year, the government agreed to settle with the women for more than $500 million. Each of the women will net more than $400,000 later this year.

In the special rates case, agencies are accused of underpaying tens of thousands of employees from 1982 to 1988. This year, the government has begun figuring out how much each employee is owed. The National Treasury Employees Union, which sued the government on behalf of employees, says the settlement will be in the "millions."

The USIA discrimination case and the special rates case have parallel histories. The USIA case lasted more than 20 years; the special rates case is not far behind. Both are class action suits in which the government fought tooth and nail through numerous appeals levels before conceding defeat.

Now the government is going through the process of finding out how similar the total settlement amounts will be. Employees paid at special rates from 1982 to 1988 were not given annual pay increases tied to General Schedule increases. The government is considering giving them lump-sum payments, in lieu of forcing agencies to go back through their records to calculate exact back pay awards.

The Office of Personnel Management last month asked each agency to identify a point person to handle records checks to look up special rate employees in agency files. Later this month, a team led by OPM will comb through records of former employees in a records center in St. Louis.

The waiting game is over for women who say they were discriminated against at USIA. It will soon be over for employees in the special rates case.

Taking to the Web

Employees whose agencies placed them in the wrong retirement system-and now face smaller pensions than they expected-failed against the government in court a few years back. Now they're trying to get Congress to restore their retirement benefits.

The employees are trying a new way to drum up support for their cause: Start a Web site. A group of the employees are calling themselves the Federal Retirement Fairness Committee. Their Web site is www.fedfair.org.

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