United States v. Clark,
454 U.S. 555 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Clark, 454 U.S. 555 (1981)

United States v. Clark

No. 80-1121

Argued November 3, 1981

Decided January 12, 1982

454 U.S. 555


There are two principal pay systems for federal employees: (1) The General Schedule (GS), which applies to "white-collar" employees and which is divided into numbered pay grades and subdivided into rates of pay or "steps" within each grade, with the salary for each "step" uniform nationwide; and (2) the prevailing wage system (WS), which primarily applies to "blue-collar" employees specifically excluded from GS, and which is also divided into grades and subdivided into "steps," with the rates of pay for each "step" based upon prevailing wage rates for comparable work in local areas. Salary treatment for employees shifted or hired into the GS system is governed by 5 U.S.C. 5334 and implementing regulations. An employee's salary after promotion is determined by reference either to the "highest previous rate" rule under § 5334(a) and the governing regulation or to the "two-step increase" rule under § 5334(b), which provides for such an increase when an employee is promoted to a position in a higher "grade." Title 5 U.S.C. § 5331 assigns the word "grade" the meaning given by § 5102(a)(5), which in turn defines the word as those positions sufficiently similar to warrant their inclusion within one range of rates of basic pay "in the General Schedule." Respondents, after being promoted from WS to GS positions, were administratively held to be entitled to a salary increase determined by the "highest previous rate" rule, which gave them a smaller increase than they would have received under the "two-step increase" rule. They then filed an action in the Court of Claims, contending that they were entitled to a two-step increase in pay pursuant to § 5334(b). The Court of Claims upheld their claim, and accordingly invalidated a regulation which construed § 5334(b) as limited to transfers or promotions within the GS.

Held: Section 5334(b) does not apply to WS employees promoted to GS positions. Pp. 454 U. S. 560-567.

(a) Giving 5334(b) its plain meaning, when an employee is promoted to a position in a higher grade "in the General Schedule," he is entitled to pay which exceeds by two step increases his pay in the grade "in the General Schedule" from which he was promoted. Absent statutory language indicating that Congress intended to include employees promoted from WS to GS within 5334(b)'s two-step requirement, the statute reveals an intent to apply such requirement only to promotions of employees already within the GS system. Pp. 454 U. S. 560-561.

Page 454 U. S. 556

(b) Although the legislative history does not expressly indicate that Congress intended to limit § 5334(b) and its predecessor to GS employees, the history does provide ample indication that such as Congress' intent. Pp. 454 U. S. 561-565.

(c) Although not determinative, the construction of a statute by those charged with its administration is entitled to great deference, particularly when that interpretation has been followed consistently over a long period of time. Here, the agency responsible for proposing and administering § 5334(b) has consistently construed it to apply only to promotions within the GS. Pp. 454 U. S. 565-566.

220 Ct.Cl. 278, 599 F.2d 411, reversed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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