Madison County

Whistle blower's depot suit dismissed

RICHMOND — An administrative law judge has dismissed a former employee's whistle-blower lawsuit against the Blue Grass Army Depot.

Donald Van Winkle filed a lawsuit in 2005 in which he claimed that his supervisors at the depot reduced his duties and denied him training, hazard pay, overtime and advancement opportunities after he raised concerns about chemical monitoring in February 2005.

Administrative Law Judge Thomas Phalen of the U.S. Department of Labor found in his decision issued Friday that depot supervisors followed proper procedures when they demoted Van Winkle. Phalen, who heard the case in November 2007, wrote that he could consider only the process the depot used to reprimand Van Winkle rather than the substance of the reprimand.

Van Winkle was an air-systems monitor at the depot in Madison County. He testified that he became disturbed about procedures at the depot after he and seven co-workers attended a training session with the manufacturer of a chemical monitoring device used to detect VX, a nerve agent stored at the depot. Van Winkle learned there that the device was being used incorrectly at the depot, and he feared for the safety of employees, he testified.

Van Winkle voiced his concerns at a February 2005 meeting. In August 2005, supervisors temporarily disqualified him from the chemical personal reliability program, a classification that was required for him to work with chemical weapons. He was later permanently disqualified from the program.

Van Winkle resigned from the depot in October 2006.

The depot argued that Van Winkle lost some of his privileges because of poor work, a negative attitude and a distrust of his managers.

Attorneys for each side have 10 days to file a petition for review.

"I am seeing a lot of problems with this opinion, and I think we will seriously consider appealing it," said Van Winkle's attorney, Paula Dinerstein, a senior counsel for the Washington, D.C., non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Kevin Bennett, an attorney for the depot, said in a statement that officials hope the decision relieves public concerns over procedures at the depot.

"As always, the Army is committed to conducting its chemical-weapons storage and disposal operations in as safe and transparent manner as possible consistent with national security considerations," he said.