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Worthington v. United States

February 08, 1999

JAMES L. WORTHINGTON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Before Michel, Plager, and Rader, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rader, Circuit Judge.

Appealed from: United States Court of Federal Claims

Chief Judge Loren A. Smith

The United States Court of Federal Claims dismissed James L. Worthington's claim for overtime pay under the Back Pay Act for lack of jurisdiction. See Worthington v. United States, 41 Fed. Cl. 181 (1998). Based on its determination that the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) covers Worthington's claim, the trial court decided that the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB or Board) has exclusive jurisdiction. Because the MSPB does not have jurisdiction over Worthington's claim and his claim otherwise falls within the jurisdictional grant of the Tucker Act, this court reverses and remands.

I.

In 1986, Worthington's employer, the United States Forest Service, transferred him to Angeles National Forest as a Civil Engineering Technician. Following the transfer, he received poor performance ratings. After failing to qualify for a within-grade pay increase, Worthington was ultimately removed in August 1990 for unacceptable performance.

Before his removal, on March 23, 1988, Worthington received an instruction letter from his supervisor. The letter expressed the supervisor's concern that Worthington had shown a pattern of taking sick and annual leave without prior approval. As a result, the supervisor enumerated certain "measures." These measures sought to ensure Worthington was "on the job when needed." Specifically, she required Worthington to work a compressed "5-4-9" schedule. In a two-week period, the 5-4-9 compressed work schedule consists of one eight-hour day, eight nine-hour days, and every other Friday off (totaling 80 hours).

In a March 28 letter to his Equal Employment Opportunity Counselor, Worthington stated that he believed he had been unlawfully placed on the compressed work schedule in violation of the Federal Employees Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 6120-6133 (1994). *fn1 In May, he filed a formal discrimination complaint in which he requested a hearing before an Administrative Judge appointed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

On April 2, 1990, in connection with the discrimination complaint, the Forest Service rescinded and canceled the letter of instruction. The April 2 letter apologized for the restrictions set forth in the March 23 letter, stating that "[t]his action was unwarranted."

Mr. Worthington then filed a claim with the Court of Federal Claims seeking compensation under the Back Pay Act, 5 U.S.C. § 5596 (1994), for the time he worked the compressed work schedule. That Act reads, in relevant part:

"(b)(1) An employee of an agency who, on the basis of a timely appeal or an administrative determination . . . is found by an appropriate authority under applicable law, rule, regulation, or collective bargaining agreement to have been affected by an unjustified or unwarranted personnel action which has resulted in the withdrawal or reduction of all or part of the pay, allowances, or differentials of the employee [is entitled to receive the pay he would have received if the personnel action had not occurred]." 5 U.S.C. § 5596(b)(1) (emphasis added).

Citing the April 2, 1990 letter, Mr. Worthington claims that the Forest Service, as an "appropriate authority," has determined that he has been affected by an "unwarranted" personnel action. Thus, he argues, the Back Pay Act entitles him to compensation.

The Court of Federal Claims dismissed the claim for lack of jurisdiction. The court explained that the CSRA provides the MSPB exclusive jurisdiction to review federal employee disputes within its terms. The court further reasoned: "[T]he comprehensive CSRA scheme includes claims for back pay." Worthington, 41 Fed. Cl. at 184. Therefore, the court determined, the MSPB - not the Court of Federal Claims - has exclusive authority to hear Worthington's claim. Worthington appeals.

He agrees that, if the MSPB has exclusive jurisdiction over his claim, the Court of Federal Claims lacks jurisdiction. He contends, however, that his claim falls outside the scope of the CSRA and that the MSPB does not have jurisdiction. Accordingly, he continues, the CSRA does not remove from ...


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