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Federal workers face major setback in shutdown lawsuit

Aarthi Swaminathan
Finance Writer

A federal judge has refused to force the government to pay federal employees who have been furloughed because of the government shutdown.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon announced the decision on Tuesday afternoon after hearing from three groups that filed the lawsuit. In his decision, he refused to grant a temporary restraining order that would have required the government to pay government employees for their work during the shutdown.

The judge also refused to grant temporary restraining orders that would have let employees being forced to work without pay stay home if they wanted to.

Leon said an order allowing employees to stay home from work would be “profoundly irresponsible,” according to an account from The Washington Post.

“At best it would create chaos and confusion… [and] at worst it could be catastrophic,” he added.

Judge rules against federal workers, but lawsuit not over

All legal options haven’t been exhausted for federal workers, however.

The decision on the lawsuit “is a disappointment,” Michael Kator, an attorney at Kator, Parks, Weiser & Harris, who represents one of the groups, told Yahoo Finance.  But the judge did indicate that he was willing to consider further argument on January 31.”

Kator explained that the lawsuit is a “two-step process,” and that even if Leon threw out the first — which is a temporary restraining order — his clients are still pursuing a preliminary injunction which Leon “would continue to consider.”

President Donald Trump leads a roundtable discussion on border security with local leaders, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. (Photo credit: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The shutdown drags on

Political infighting over a proposed $5.7 billion wall on the southern border has reached an impasse, with nearly 800,000 federal workers either being furloughed or working without pay.

The three groups that pursued the lawsuit — the National Treasury Employees Union, National Air Traffic Controllers Association and five federal workers — claimed that the government had violated the Fifth and Thirteenth Amendments in the Constitution by forcing them to work without pay.

Current federal rules also prohibit federal workers from seeking outside employment despite their financial condition.

Leon’s decision means that federal agencies can continue to force employees to report for unpaid work — which means suffering for many until the government reopens.

Judge rules against federal workers on day 25 of the historic shutdown. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

‘Judiciary… cannot be another source of leverage’

The setback in the lawsuit comes a s federal workers’ bills mount and pain spreads across the nation, and a deal still seems elusive with Trump promising to “ never back down .”

But while he ruled against them, the judge wasn’t unsympathetic.

“There is no doubt that real hardship is being felt,” Leon said. But he wanted to avoid overstepping his duty as a judge by getting involved in politics. “The judiciary is not and cannot be another source of leverage [for resolving political] squabbles.”

Correction: The headline on this post originally stated that the federal workers had lost their lawsuit. The error has been corrected.

Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami .

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