The National Association of Air Traffic Controllers has sued President Trump, the Federal Aviation Administration and several other governmental agencies and officials, complaining of being forced to work without pay during the shutdown.
The Complaint states the obvious, which is the extreme importance of Controllers to national security, and points out that the FAA struggles to maintain a full complement of controllers even under normal circumstances.
The suit states that, following the December shutdown, federally “Excepted” employees, including Controllers, have been forced to continue performing their duties without regular and overtime pay. This, they claim, violates their rights under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by depriving them of their pay without due process, and also violates the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
The Complaint describes several “chain reaction” consequences of the lack of pay. One employee complains that, without his salary, he cannot meet his mandatory alimony payments, which he believes will lead to court action and revocation of the federal security clearance he must have to work as a Controller.
The lawsuit requests back pay and attorneys’ fees. The Controllers also requested a temporary restraining order (TRO) asking the court to find that the Defendants’ actions violated the Fifth Amendment and FLSA, order the government to cease violating their rights, and award them back pay. A Temporary Restraining Order is a court order of limited duration, commanding the parties to a case to maintain a certain status until the court can hear further evidence and decide whether to issue a preliminary injunction.
Last week the district judge denied the TRO request. While claiming to empathize with the Plaintiffs’ position, and noting that federal courts are also victims of the shutdown, he held that “the shutdown is a political problem”. His belief was that, if he granted the TRO, he would effectively give hundreds of thousands of excepted employees the option not show up for work the following day. This, he stated would at best “create confusion and chaos-at worst, catastrophe!”. He stated that he was “not going to put people’s lives at risk with a somewhat knee-jerk, blanket TRO”. But although he denied the motion he ordered both sides to continue litigating the suit. There is yet no indication about how the abrupt end to the shutdown announced by the President will impact the suit.