United States v. Bergh

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Bergh
LOCATION: Quality Photo Shop

DOCKET NO.: 17
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1956-1957)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 352 US 40 (1956)
ARGUED: Oct 15, 1956
DECIDED: Nov 19, 1956

Facts of the case

Question

Media for United States v. Bergh

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 15, 1956 in United States v. Bergh

Earl Warren:

Number 17, United States, Petitioner, versus Alfred C. Bergh et al.

Mr. Rosenthal.

Alan S. Rosenthal:

May it please the Court.

This case is hereon writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Claims.

The single issue presented is whether a federal per diem employees and federal -- a per diem employee is one whose rate of compensation is fixed on a piece-work, daily or hourly basis, rather than on an annual basis, are entitled to an extra day's compensation as a gratuity for work on holidays during World War II which were regular workdays for all federal employees.

The background of this litigation comes down to this, by two presidential directives during 1943, all normally observed peace-time holidays with the exemption of Christmas were designated as regular workdays for the balance of the war in the interest of obtaining maximum output in governmental activities.

For the duration of the law, therefore, all federal employees, per annum workers and per diem workers alike, worked on these days just as on other days in the work week.

For this work, per annum employees receive no additional compensation and per diem employees receive their regular rate of pay.

Now, the respondent in this case, Mr. Bergh, was one of these per diem workers, an employee of the Department of the Navy at the shipyard at Portsmouth, Virginia.

Pursuant to the previously mentioned directives, respondent and common with all federal employees worked on New Year's Day, Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day and July 4 in the year 1945 just as on other days in the work week.

For this work, and we think it's important to note this, the respondent was paid his regular wages plus any overtime or night differential that he was entitled to.

By this action, filed some seven years after his work was performed, the respondent seeks an additional day's pay as a gratuity for working on these days which we emphasized again were regular workdays for all federal employees.

His claim is that while concededly the largest class of government employee, the per annum worker, was not entitled to the gratuity.

The class of which he is a representative, the per diem worker, is entitled to this gratuity which the General Accounting Office estimates will aggregate somewhere perhaps in the neighborhood of $750 million.

William O. Douglas:

Over what period?

Alan S. Rosenthal:

Over the period of the war.

They --

(Inaudible)

Alan S. Rosenthal:

That's correct.

They do not know, of course, because claims of all have not been filed but they're upwards at 70,000 claims at this point.

(Inaudible)

Alan S. Rosenthal:

Well, Your Honor, the Congress -- there's a bill pending in Congress which will, should this Court affirm this judgment, suspend the statute of limitations or waive it and give this individual the opportunity to file in the Court of Claims.

Now, this bill was not intended to connote any view of Congress on the merits but -- so that there is still -- potentially it is rather large liability.

Earl Warren:

Was it -- was it passed, the bill?

Alan S. Rosenthal:

No, it's being held in advance, if Your Honor pleases.

Now, at the outset --

Stanley Reed:

Well, was -- if this -- this suit, of course, was filed in time?

Alan S. Rosenthal:

That's right because the respondent in this case was in the service from 1946 to 1948 and under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act, the limitation period did not run while he was in service.

There's no question about this suit being tardy.

Now, at the very outset, we think it's important to note that the payment of a gratuity, and that's what this is, this claim, to a federal employee must have its roots in a federal statute which either expressly provides for the gratuity in the particular circumstances or in the alternative confers permissive discretion upon the employing agency to pay the gratuity.