Hundreds Who Worked During Shutdown Join Lawsuit Against Government

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Hundreds of federal employees have signed on to a lawsuit against the federal government, seeking damages that resulted from not receiving pay on time during the shutdown.

Five Bureau of Prisons employees originally filed the suit, alleging the government violated the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act when it delayed full pay for employees forced to work during the shutdown until agencies reopened Oct. 17. Less than a week after the suit was filed, more than 500 workers have signed on to join it, according to the law firm representing the employees.

Under a provision of the FLSA, employees cannot file a class action lawsuit that automatically distributes any compensation awarded by the court to all employees in the same class. Instead, the employees must affirmatively opt in to the case.

While the number of employees signed on to the case will not affect its legal standing, Michael Lieder -- an attorney with Mehri and Skalet, the firm representing the federal employees -- was pleased to see more plaintiffs join, as “with each person joining the amount of benefits the case can generate increases.”

Lieder said a majority of the employees who have signed on are from the Bureau of Prisons, but his firm is beginning to receive applications from “a number of other agencies.” Many more shutdown-excepted feds could still add their names to the case, as Mehri and Skalet plan to file a motion that a notice be sent to all 1.3 million federal employees who worked during the shutdown, explaining their eligibility to join the lawsuit.

Judges typically allow these notices in FLSA cases, Lieder said.

Plaintiffs are seeking compensation of $7.25 times the number of hours worked between Oct. 1 and Oct. 5, the period in which paychecks were delayed. This amounts to $290 for employees who worked 8-hour days, plus any overtime they are due. Unlike furloughed workers, employees who reported to work during the shutdown were guaranteed retroactive pay. However, the plaintiffs in Martin et. al. v. The United States argue because the excepted workers faced hardships during the shutdown, such as an inability to pay bills on time, they should receive extra compensation.

The federal claims court judge has put a stay on the case, but Lieder said his firm will soon ask the judge to lift it, at which point he expects the suit to move relatively quickly. 

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