A former high-ranking employe at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, who contented that he was fired two years ago because he planned to help blow the whistle on the agency's personnel policies, has settled his multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the commission for $96,000 and a new government job for six months -- outside the commission.
The commission also has agreed to destroy all investigative records that contain allegations that the employe, Richard E. Rapps, was repeatedly absent from his job, which had been cited by the commission as the reason for his dismissal.
In a settlement agreement approved by U.S. District Judge Barrington D. Parker last Wednesday, the commission also said it would destroy letters and documents that relate to Rapps' firing in January 1978; and adjust his record to indicate no interruption in service.
Rapps, a lawyer who was the commission's executive secretary, could not be reached for comment yesterday. Rapps lives in Fairfax.
The case, which was vigorously contested on both sides, was settled before there was any resolution to what Parker had once described as the "dramatic differences" in the facts, presented by Rapps and his government employer.
In a complaint filed with the federal court, Rapps said his problems at the commission began when its then-chairman S. John Byington told him in May 1977 that he would have to accept a transfer from his job as acting associate director of compliance and enforcement to executive secretary. Rapps contended in court papers that he had been promised the permanent director's job and that the transfer was illegal.
Rapps said in court papers that he reluctantly accepted the job and in exchange, Byington signed forms for Rapps that described his "exceptional level" of performance. Byington has reportedly said that the transfer was intended all along.
That summer, Rapps contended, he was contacted by staff from a Senate subcommittee that was then conducting an investigation of personnel practices at the agency. Rapps said in court papers that he provided information to the staff and agreed to testify if congressional hearings were held.
The following November, Rapps met with a reporter from the Federal Times who had inquired about Rapps' appointment to executive secretary, court records said. About three weeks later, a front-page article appeared in that publication about Rapps' appointment and a Civil Service Commission investigation into personnel practices at the commission, the record said. The Civil Service Commission is now known as the Office of Personnel Management.
It has been reported that Rapps' allegations about personnel policies at the commission became part of the larger investigation already under way. The study resulted in a report that charged the commission with improper personnel actions in at least 30 cases. According to court records, Rapps' was one of the cases cited.
In January 1978, Rapps contended in court papers, he learned that a secret report on his work attendance and leave record had been prepared and sent to Byington. On Jan. 16, 1978, Rapps said he received official notice that his "services were no longer required."
At the time Rapps was fired, it was reported that Byinton had charged that Rapps was "absent from his office for approximately 40 percent of the time for the three-month period of August, September and October 1977 without taking any official leave time."
Since the case was settled out of court, however, there was no official determination about whether it was the "charge of egregious absenteeism" as Parker described it, or Rapps "whistleblowing" intentions that led to his firing.
According to the settlement agreement, the $96,000 to be paid by the commission covers all of Rapps' claims for back pay, damages and attorneys' fees.
Rapps also get to work again for the federal government for a six-month term ending Aug. 1. Rapps will not returning to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, however. The settlement agreement says that he will initially be detailed to the job of attorney advisor to the U.S. Navy Department recruitment command, a new job Rapps arranged for himself.
The settlement said, that Rapps will not even apply to return to the Consumer Product Safety Commission until August 1983.