In the 2003 Butterbaugh v. Department of Justice, 336 F. 3d 1332 (Fed. Cir. 2003) decision, a Federal Appeals Court ruled that the Justice Department, following precedent and rules set by OPM, had improperly charged military leave to employees prior to 2000.
Laws allow federal employees who are also reservists to 15 days of annual paid leave for reserve or National Guard training. The petitioners in this case were full-time employees of the Justice Department, Bureau of Prisons at the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto, PA. Their complaint is that they were charged leave for days that they were not scheduled to work (i.e. weekends). In 2000, Congress agreed and ruled that non-workdays could no longer be charged.
Petitioners, claiming that they were forced to use unpaid leave and vacation time to meet their military training obligations, brought this claim to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). They argued that the Justice Department was violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) by “denying employment based on their military service.”
The MSPB upheld the calculations of the Justice Department, stating that the petitioners were not denied employment and that the 15-day allowance was based on calendar days, not workdays.
In a ruling rendered on July 24, 2003, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned the MSPB’s decision, stating that “[a]s a general matter, employees are not accountable to their employers for time that they are not required to work…[there is] no reason why federal employees need military leave for days on which they are not scheduled to work.” The ruling changed the leave schedule from 15 calendar days to 15 working days.
Important Case Law and Ongoing Legal Action
In the time following the Butterbaugh decision, other cases have come through the Courts that have had a profound effect on the legal landscape of the underlying issues of military leave calculations.
Jose D. Hernandez v. Department of the Air Force is one such case. This 2007 decision extended the timeline for filing claims of wrongly charged military leave, which was originally set from 1994-2000, to go back as far as 1980.
The situation became more complicated with the MSPB’s decision in Pittman v. Department of Justice. The ruling in this case was interpreted to bar those involved in a collective bargaining agreement from bringing their grievances to the MSPB before exhausting all options with their collective bargaining agreement. This decision limited the ability of affected people to rectify their miscalculation of leave.
In a rare occurrence, the MSPB overturned their own decision in Pittman, stating that Congressional mandate superseded any administrative policy of an agency.
This reversal affected an ongoing case, Weiberg v. Department of Justice, which originally was denied by the MSPB due to a lack of jurisdiction. In light of the new developments in Pittman, the Weiberg case is now scheduled to be heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.