A convicted bank robber has won a favorable settlement in a lawsuit that a senior Justice Department official said threatened "my powers over the more than 41,000 federal prisoners."
Douglas Plumley, an inmate who was dismissed from his clerk's job at the maximum-security prison in Lompoc, Calif., will be reinstated in the job and awarded $2,045 in back pay and $30,000 in attorneys' fees and costs.
The settlement with Justice was announced Wednesday by the Government Accountability Project, a watchdog group that represents whistle-blowers.
Plumley's case attracted attention because it led to a ruling by an administrative law judge that prison inmates can be considered "federal employes" if they file a legitimate whistle-blowing complaint.
Associate Attorney General Stephen S. Trott intervened in the case, saying the judge's ruling could unleash a slew of similar complaints from people behind bars and make it more difficult for Justice to manage the federal prison system.
Plumley lost his $1-an-hour job with the federal prison training program in February 1986 after writing a letter of complaint about the use of allegedly hazardous chemicals at Lompoc. Plumley typed the letter on a prison typewriter and was fired for unauthorized use of the typewriter.
Plumley appealed his dismissal to the Labor Department, which has jurisdiction over some whistle-blowing complaints by federal employes. "The term 'employe' must and shall be liberally construed to include prison-inmate employes," administrative judge E. Earl Thomas ruled in December.
The case was headed to trial when the settlement was reached. Under the settlement, Plumley, who is serving a 12-year sentence, will be transferred to another institution and have his parole date recalculated to wipe out the effect of the firing.