WASHINGTON – The Federal Aviation Administration must give a new job to an employee who was fired after he told his supervisors that an airport security trainee might be linked to a Sept. 11 hijacker.
U.S. Special Counsel Elaine Kaplan directed the FAA to rehire James Hopkins because he is protected under whistle-blower laws, the counsel's spokeswoman announced Tuesday. Kaplan also requested that the agency offer him back pay.
"We concluded that his whistle-blowing activity was a contributing factor in the decision to fire him," said special counsel spokeswoman Jane McFarland. "The supervisors are going to get a letter of caution into their personnel file. When you reasonably believe that you're raising a matter of national concern or public health and safety, you should be protected."
Hopkins could not be reached for comment. FAA officials did not immediately return calls for comment.
At the time he was fired, Hopkins worked for the FAA as an international operations specialist.
On Sept. 13, he read a newspaper article that identified two men being investigated by the FBI after they were linked to passenger manifests of the hijacked planes.
Hopkins searched the FAA's International Training Program database for the names of two men and found a match for one of the men's surnames — "Bukhari."
Hopkins' supervisor initially denied his request to go to FAA security or share the information with other members of the staff.
The supervisor told Hopkins to return to his desk and "focus on his assignment," according to the special counsel. Hopkins told another supervisor about the name match. Later that day, he was placed on administrative leave.
Hopkins called the FBI with information about the database match. Investigators interviewed him several times about the matter before clearing the man whose name he had found.
Eight days later, Hopkins was fired for not showing "evidence of sound judgment," the special counsel said.
Hopkins has been offered a position as an FAA aeronautical information specialist at the same pay grade as when he was fired.
"If a whistle-blower wants a reassignment we often make it a part of the settlement," McFarland said.