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Judge: Federal employees suing over government shutdown cannot remain anonymous

March 1, 2019 GMT

A judge has ordered five federal employees suing President Trump and agency leaders over the partial government shutdown to use their real names, instead of pseudonyms, as the case proceeds.

Employees at the Transportation, Justice, Agriculture and Homeland Security departments who filed as “Jane Doe” or “John Doe” say they fear reprisal or notoriety if their identities are exposed in the lawsuit, which argues it’s unconstitutional to punish essential employees who refuse to work without pay or prevent workers from seeking side gigs during the shutdown.

U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell said plaintiffs in past or pending suits over government shutdowns have used their real names and there is not enough evidence the employees would face dire consequences.


“The plaintiffs’ fears of reprisal, retaliation, and potential physical harm are too speculative to outweigh the public’s substantial and presumptive interest in disclosure,” she wrote.

She was also unpersuaded by two employees who said their frequent on-the-job interactions with felons will result in undue attention in dangerous workplaces.

“While the court is sympathetic to the risks attendant to certain jobs, plaintiffs have failed to offer anything aside from mere speculation that their participation in this suit will result in any more danger beyond that inherent in their employment,” Judge Howell wrote.

Michael Kator, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said his firm will be filing an amended complaint with the names of clients who wish to proceed.

Federal employees aren’t receiving their regularly scheduled paychecks on Friday, the 21st day of the government shutdown that centers on President Trump’s demands for border-wall funding.

Their biggest labor union, the American Federation of Government Employees, accused the administration of holding checks for 800,000 employees “hostage” amid the border-wall standoff.

Lawyers say the situation is particularly galling for 420,000 employees who are considered essential and have reported to duty without pay. They say those employees are entitled to extra damages because the first pay cycle has elapsed and they aren’t getting their checks.

Democrats marked payday by visiting affected federal workers or deriding Mr. Trump as a rich guy who’s out of touch with everyday Americans.

“What many in Washington don’t understand is that the average American can’t miss a paycheck without dipping in to savings,” Rep. Terri Sewell, Alabama Democrat, said on Twitter. “And for far too many, there are no savings to dip into or parent to ask for money from.”