A lawsuit filed this week on behalf of Leroy "Rich" Richmond, a Virginia postal worker who contracted inhalation anthrax while working at Washington's central postal plant in 2001, might be the first of several such suits brought by anthrax survivors, his attorney said yesterday.
Richmond, who was one of several postal workers exposed to anthrax via a series of letters sent through the U.S. mail in October 2001, is suing U.S. Postmaster General John E. Potter and two other postal managers for $100 million.
Attorneys for Richmond, whose story was chronicled in The Sun last August, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court Tuesday, claiming that the 58-year-old man's life was endangered when post office officials failed to close his workplace swiftly after the deadly substance was discovered. Richmond worked as an express mail clerk at the now-closed facility on Brentwood Road in northeast Washington.
A 35-year veteran of the Postal Service, Richmond almost lost his life to his infection in October 2001. Two friends and co-workers, Joseph Curseen and Thomas Morris, died.
Since his release from the hospital, Richmond has struggled with continuing health problems. Unable to return to work, he has been receiving roughly two-thirds of his $2,360 monthly salary under the federal workers compensation program.
Richmond's lawyer, Gregory Lattimer, said he expects some action on the lawsuit within three months. He said he expects to file similar suits on behalf of New Jersey postal workers who were also infected by anthrax spores.
Richmond was unavailable for comment yesterday. During a recent news conference about the suit, though, he said the action was "about finding some justice and closure in this case."
"He was saying, 'This isn't about money, this is about accountability,'" said Lattimer. "It's about these people [the U.S. Postal Service] stepping up to the plate and admitting they're wrong so they do not repeat that wrong in the future."
Richmond's suit details the deadly chronology of the anthrax attacks. Letters containing anthrax spores were sent to government officials in Washington, passing through the Brentwood facility en route to Capitol Hill. The suit alleges that Postal Service officials did not close the plant speedily enough after a senatorial aide discovered a deadly letter.
Instead, postal workers were assured of their safety, the suit maintains, and Richmond continued his job as usual. Workers were also told that closing the plant would prove too costly for the agency and would cause citizens to question the "integrity" of the mail, Lattimer says.
In addition, the suit alleges that employees on Capitol Hill and at the post office received different treatment.
After the discovery of anthrax, congressional offices were closed and workers, mainly white, were treated with antibiotics against possible exposure, the suit says. Workers in the postal plant, in contrast, were neglected because most of them were African-American, it claims.
Gerry McKiernan, spokesman for the Postal Service, said the agency is "precluded from speaking about a federal suit." But he pointed to reports describing how Postal Service officials were so confident there was little risk of anthrax exposure that they held a news conference in the Brentwood plant before it was closed.
Several weeks ago, Richmond's claim for damages beyond the workers compensation was turned down. According to the Postal Service, federal employment compensation laws limit the amount provided to those injured in the workplace.
Richmond considers himself to be at "75 percent strength," his attorney said. "Physically, he is easily fatigued. Right now he is just working at getting back to the level to do what he did before."
To read The Sun's two-part series about Leroy Richmond and the 2001 anthrax attacks, go online to www.baltimoresun.com/richmond.