DoJ Will Notify Nearly 1 Million Feds of Eligibility to Join Shutdown Lawsuit

Carolyn Kaster/AP file photo

About 1 million federal employees will soon be receiving an email on their federal accounts informing them of their eligibility to potentially win some money.

The notice is no phishing scam, however; rather the email will come from the Justice Department to alert those who were forced to work without pay during the federal government shutdown in 2013 to let them know they can sign up to join a lawsuit.

A federal judge ruled in August the government violated federal labor laws when it delayed payments to employees when agencies shuttered their doors in October 2013. The suit was originally brought by five Bureau of Prisons employees seeking damages after they were forced to work for two weeks during the shutdown but did not receive their full paychecks until after agencies reopened.

The judge also determined the government must send out notices to every employee eligible to join the suit of their right to do so. Those notices will go out Monday to employees' federal email addresses, with the exception of air traffic controllers, who will receive letters in the mail.

About 1.3 million federal employees were forced to work during the 16-day shutdown and did not receive their full paychecks until the government reopened. Some white-collar employees -- such as doctors, attorneys and top-level managers -- are ineligible to join the lawsuit because they are exempt from Fair Labor Standards Act policies.

Employees will have 105 days from Monday to sign on to the suit. They must affirmatively sign up to join the lawsuit in order to receive any potential benefits.

About 5,000 feds have already signed on, said Heidi Burakiewicz, an attorney at the law firm Mehri & Skalet, which is representing the workers. Burakiewicz said she is hopeful that after the notices go out, more employees will join those who have added their names just through word of mouth.

“The more people that sign up, the more powerful the message that it is not acceptable to treat federal employees this way,” she said.

While U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith initially sided largely with the plaintiffs, she has not yet ruled on whether they are entitled to “liquidated damages,” or financial compensation, from the federal government.

The case is currently in the discovery phase, which will end May 25. The plaintiffs plan to file for a summary judgment one month after that ends, and expect a decision on liquidated damages at some point thereafter.

Plaintiffs are seeking compensation of $7.25 -- the federal minimum wage -- 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.

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