(CN) – Nearly 150 current and former Department of Homeland Security employees are entitled to overtime pay for training a sixth day each week, the Court of Federal Claims ruled.
The agency employees said the department failed to pay them overtime for a mandatory sixth day of training at its Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga.
The government admitted that it never paid overtime for those extra days, but argued that the 148 employees missed their two-year deadline to sue under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
The department added that because its actions weren’t “willful,” the workers weren’t entitled to a one-year filing extension. But even assuming the plaintiffs met the deadline, the government argued, they can’t recover liquidated damages, because the agency had acted in “good faith” and based on “reasonable grounds.”
In July 2008, the claims court whittled the plaintiffs down to only those who could show that the government had willfully violated the Act, warranting the longer, three-year statute of limitations.
When the case again came before the court, the judges held that the remaining plaintiffs were not only entitled to the filing extension, but also to liquidated damages based on the agency’s willfulness.
The department’s pay personnel knew in March 2003 that employees needed to be paid overtime for the sixth day of training, the ruling states. But the government chose not to pay overtime, the court said, because doing so would cost millions.
Though federal agencies often consider budget impacts in payment decisions, Judge Firestone noted, the government can’t ignore clear requirements under federal law.
“[T]he court finds that (the government) did not act in good faith nor with reasonable grounds when it failed to pay overtime after it received notice and an explanation of the relevant FLSA regulations,” Firestone concluded.