"9,000 Justice lawyers seek back pay; $500 million sought in overtime lawsuit," read the headline of the February 22, 2000, Washington Times. Claiming that they were denied over $500 million in overtime pay over the last eight years, Justice Department lawyers filed a class-action suit in November 1998 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. This group includes members of the 94 U.S. Attorney's Offices in the nation. The plaintiffs in the suit were required to opt-in to the now-certified class, and their numbers have reached in excess of 9,100. Due to the statute of limitations, the plaintiffs seek overtime compensation since 1992.
The suit accuses management of illegally refusing to make payments for overtime that was legally accrued. Specifically, the suit alleges a violation of the 1945 Federal Employees Pay Act (FEPA), 5 U.S.C. §§ 5541-5550a, that requires overtime pay for all federal employees who work more than an eight-hour day or a 40-hour week. The complaint states that the law does not carve out an exception for lawyers. Plaintiffs' attorneys have reported that internal Department of Justice documents establish that the Department knew of its statutory duties to pay overtime as early as 1980.
In response, the Justice Department has asserted that its legal staff is composed of professionals who knew that they would be required to work more than a 40-hour week. Additionally, pleadings suggest that because the Department did not explicitly approve the overtime, it therefore is not compensable. Noticed depositions in the case include Attorney General Janet Reno and Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.
The plaintiffs' attorneys have established a Website that provides more information about the suit: www.dojclass.com. Many newspaper articles have appeared on the subject, airing both sides to the dispute. For example, the New York Times profiled the litigation recently. The Committee on Government Attorneys' newsletter will update the status of litigation in the next issue.