A court recently ruled that the government owes liquidated damages for failing to timely pay certain government employees minimum and overtime wages after the partial government shutdown in 2013. The employees had worked during the shutdown because they were deemed essential for the safety of human life or the protection of property. The government ultimately paid the employees their proper wages, but not on the first regularly scheduled payday following the shutdown as required by law. Because of this delay, the 24,000 employees filed a lawsuit seeking liquidated damages for not being paid in a timely manner under the law.
The government did not pay the employees in their first paycheck because it had determined that the Anti-Deficiency Act (ADA) prevented this additional payment until funds were appropriated by Congress. The court, however, determined that the ADA did not cancel the government’s obligation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to pay the employees in a timely way. While the court recognized that the ADA applied to the actions of government officials, it did not affect any party’s rights under the law. Because the employees were entitled to payment in their next paycheck under law, the failure to pay this amount was not excused by the fact that the ADA prevented any government official from authorizing the payments.
The FLSA, however, states that a party which violates it owes liquidated damages unless the party acted in good faith. The court held that the government did not act in good faith because it did not have an honest intention of determining its legal obligations under the FLSA. The government did not seek a legal opinion of its obligation, nor did it consider if making the employees work during the shutdown without timely payment would violate the FLSA. Instead, the court held, the government merely relied on its view that the ADA controlled the issue. The court also held that the executive agencies could not claim the shutdown was beyond their control because it was done by the legislative branch, finding no relevant distinction between the branches of government.
The liquidated damages are to be in an amount equal to the minimum and overtime wages that the government failed to timely pay. The court asked the plaintiff to make these calculations and present them to the court.