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1998 suit may force payment of bonuses

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - More than 500 GovGuam employees are waiting for a Superior Court judge to decide whether to order the government to pay merit bonuses for their superior performance over the years.  There's a Superior Court case setting the precedence for government to pay the merit bonus.

"DOA is not denying the existence of the law or that it's a valid law. They're just kind of passing the buck to the various administrators, saying, 'Well, we don't have the money right now and that's not a solution,'" said Attorney Mike Phillips.  The lawyer says just because the island's public sector is broke doesn't mean it's justified to break the law that mandates 3.5% merit bonuses be given to the government's best workers who receive superior performance ratings.

A 12-year-old court case could have a significant impact on the class action lawsuit filed Monday by an administrative assistant from the Bureau of Statistics & Plans, Marylou S. Gogo against the Government of Guam.  "We have an attorney general opinion that says the law is still in existence and still valid," Phillips added.  "We have at least one Superior Court of Guam court case wherein the judge held the same that an employee can go to court to get his money and received his money."

In 1998 Gregorio Quichocho filed a lawsuit against the Guam Waterworks Authority alleging the agency failed to pay him the bonus after receiving a superior performance rating in 1995.  According to court documents, GWA argued that Quichocho was not entitled to the merit bonus because of a technicality.  In 1991 the Civil Service Commission adopted a resolution to adopt policies and procedures for the implementation of the merit bonus granted under the law.

GWA argued that because the CSC never did, the application of the merit bonus provision was to be suspended.  Superior Court Judge Michael Bordallo, however, determined that the Commission's failure to act didn't affect his right to the merit bonus.

In his decision and order, the judge wrote, "A classified employee cannot be divested of his right to a merit bonus by the derelict acts of the administrators."  GWA also tried to argue that budget laws prohibited the merit bonuses during the 95-96 fiscal year.

The judge however found otherwise, writing, "The merit bonus authorized in 4 GCA 6203 does not change the plaintiff's compensation.  Rather, it grants a one time lump sum payment.  Therefore, the Court finds that Public Law 23-45:30 did not effect the Plaintiff's entitlement to the merit bonus in 4 GCA 6203.  The defendant was under a clear, present and ministerial duty to issue the merit bonus after December 1, 1991."

While the budget laws in 1996, 1997, 2002, 2003, and 2004 froze the bonuses, Phillips believes there's hope for the class to recover all the bonuses their owed dating back to the 1991, because of Quichocho's case.  "I think there's still a real good chance for the employees that are part of that period wherein the Legislature did come in and say, 'For this period, we're going to freeze the meritorious bonuses,'" he said.

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