- The Washington Times - Friday, October 28, 2005

More than four years after they were exposed to anthrax, employees at a mail center in Northeast sought yesterday to revive lawsuits against the U.S. Postal Service.

They asked a three-judge panel from the Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate a pair of cases against the postmaster general and local Postal Service managers.

The lawsuits contend that workers at the Brentwood postal center deliberately were kept on the job for four days after officials knew they had been exposed to weapons-grade anthrax in letters sent to Capitol Hill.

The lawsuits say postal employees repeatedly were told their workplace was safe, even though congressional office buildings where the letters were received had closed.

Attorneys for plaintiffs in both cases noted that 10 percent of the congressional staffers were minorities compared with 93 percent of the mail center’s staff.

“They only told the lies to the black people,” said Gregory L. Lattimer, an attorney for Leroy Richmond, one of 17 persons who contracted inhalation anthrax and recovered.

Mr. Richmond, 61, of Stafford, Va., is seeking $50 million in damages. Mr. Lattimer said that if the case is reinstated, he will be able to prove that Brentwood employees were misled deliberately.

“They were told there was no contamination and closing Brentwood would cost the Postal Service $600,000 a day,” Mr. Lattimer said.

Two employees, Joseph Curseen Jr., 47, of Clinton, and Thomas Morris Jr., 55, of Suitland, died of the disease.

Brentwood was closed Oct. 21, 2001, and 2,100 employees were encouraged to report for health screenings and given antibiotics.

The building was shut for 26 months and underwent an elaborate decontamination process at a cost exceeding $130 million.

“The defendants told them they had nothing to fear,” said Dale Wilcox, a lawyer with Judicial Watch.

The nonpartisan advocacy group is representing postal workers and a support group called Brentwood Exposed.

Plaintiffs in both cases appealed after lower courts blocked the lawsuits. Rulings could be released in months, but attorneys for the plaintiffs say the cases ultimately might be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Although Postal Service attorneys concede congressional staffers were treated differently than postal workers, they deny any discriminatory intent. They said employees have been free to pursue their claims through regular human resources channels.

“All of our lives were put in jeopardy,” said Dena Briscoe of Clinton, a former Brentwood clerk who is the lead plaintiff in the class-action case.

Although few employees still complain of physical effects attributed to the incident, many say the emotional damage remains.

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