A federal judge yesterday temporarily prevented the U.S. Office of Education from firing a handicapped copying machine operator who was the only person terminated by the department in a reduction-in-force (RIF) last month.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan issued a preliminary injunction that stops the government from carrying out its intention of firing Frederick A. Recker, 34, a GS2 making $12,000 a year. Recker had worked for the government 14 years, receiving satisfactory job performance ratings until his termination, which was to be effective Monday.

Recker's lawyer described his client in a hearing yesterday as mentally retarded and suffering from muscular dystrophy, a club foot and cataracts. His mother said in a court deposition that the Office of Education job is the only one Recker has had since high school, and that he "lives for his work."

Hogan, in allowing Recker to stay on his job until his appeals within the department are exhausted, said: "It does seem remarkable to the court that there does not seem to be another position in the government, if not the Office of Education, for this man."

"I'm glad. I'm happy," Recker said yesterday from the Alexandria home where he lives with his parents.

In an affidavit filed in the case, the Office of Education acknowledged that Recker was the only person to lose his job in the RIF, which was a reorganization of two offices recommended in December. Two other employes had their pay reduced by one salary level. "This position was proposed for elimination not because Mr. Recker was handicapped, but because clerical and professional staff could operate the automatic Xerox machine and deliver mail," Jesse M. Soriano, an official of the department, stated in the affidavit. "Since I had to abolish at least one position, Mr. Recker's position was a position I felt the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs could do without."

In court papers seeking the injunction, Recker's lawyer, Barry H. Gottfried, alleged his client had been the victim of a "thinly-veiled effort to discriminate against him because of his handicaps . . . " Recker will suffer "irreparable injury" if he is terminated, he said.

The person who signed Recker's termination notice, Alex De La Garza, the department's deputy director of personnel, told a reporter yesterday that no one else in the 6,000-employe agency had been RIFfed since January 1982, when 40 people were let go. Nor are there plans to terminate others, he said.

"It's not hard to believe" that Recker's job was the only one in the department in need of being abolished, De La Garza said in response to a question. "His position was abolished due to the nature of his job."

Rebecca Ross, an assistant U.S. attorney, acknowledged that Recker's case is "troubling" but argued that his request for a preliminary injunction should not be granted because the courts would be inundated with similar requests stopping government RIFs.

Hogan ruled that the provisions of the federal Rehabilitation Act, which requires that handicapped workers receive special consideration by the government, and the "extraordinary" circumstances surrounding the case, support issuing an injunction until Recker has been given time to contest the dismissal or find another job.

In addition, Hogan found that Recker, in light of his impaired mental condition, had not received sufficient explanation that he was being let go. Gottfried said in court that Recker thought he was only being transferred.

"The public interest is well-served by recognizing the rights of the handicapped," the judge said.