No bonus has Hanford whistleblower back in court

June 28, 2013 

— The attorney for former Hanford manager Walter Tamosaitis brought his case back to court Friday after Tamosaitis’ employer failed to give him a bonus.

In January 2012 a lawsuit brought by Tamosaitis against Bechtel National was dismissed by former Judge Craig Matheson of Benton County Superior Court, in part because Tamosaitis did not show that he had suffered financial harm, according to Tamosaitis’ attorney, Jack Sheridan.

Judge Sal Mendoza Jr. declined to reopen the case Friday, but the hearing will allow the evidence to be brought up on appeal, satisfying Sheridan’s goal.

Tamosaitis had sued claiming Bechtel National had wrongly interfered in his employment with Bechtel subcontractor URS.

URS has claimed in court documents that it removed Tamosaitis from the project on Bechtel’s orders.

Tamosaitis has alleged that he was removed in summer 2010 from the $12.2 billion vitrification plant project at Hanford for raising questions about the future safe operation of the plant when it begins treating radioactive waste for disposal in 2019.

Bechtel and URS deny that he was removed for raising safety concerns and said he was removed after sending an inappropriate email.

Work on key parts of the plant have since been stopped until technical issues that could affect the safe operation of the plant have been resolved.

Tamosaitis has continued to work for URS, but initially was assigned to a basement office shared with a copy machine and given little meaningful work, according to court documents.

Bechtel pointed out after the hearing that a federal judge last year said Tamosaitis was given opportunities to change offices and to accept work that would require him to relocate, but declined.

Tamosaitis continued to be paid and initially was given annual bonuses.

However, in 2012 he did not receive a bonus with other employees in March, Sheridan said. When he asked about it he was told it was a mistake and he was awarded a bonus, Sheridan said.

Sheridan argued in court that was a legal maneuver to make sure that Tamosaitis did not suffer financial harm in the one-year window after Matheson dismissed the case.

This spring, after the one-year period had passed, Tamosaitis did not receive a bonus, which likely would have been for upwards of $40,000, Sheridan said.

A URS official said that Tamosaitis did not receive the bonus because he was “overhead,” rather than working for a billable project, Sheridan said.

However, if Tamosaitis had not been wrongly removed from the vitrification plant project, his career would not have been destroyed, he would have been assigned to a project and he would have been given a bonus, Sheridan said.

To introduce the evidence into the Benton County Superior Court more than a year after it was dismissed, Sheridan needed to show that extraordinary circumstances existed.

That was not the case, said attorney Kevin Baumgardner, representing Bechtel.

It is old news that Tamosaitis was dismissed from the vitrification plant project and that should not be considered as new information, Baumgardner said.

The URS performance bonuses paid to its employees has nothing to do with Bechtel and no evidence has been presented that Bechtel knew about it, Baumgardner said.

In addition, he said that lack of financial harm was one of several reasons considered by the former judge when dismissing the case.

In court documents Bechtel called the suggestion that the judgment be vacated and the case start over “astounding.”

Mendoza agreed with Bechtel that no extraordinary circumstances existed to allow evidence to be considered more than a year after the case was dismissed.

However, raising the issue in Benton County Superior Court will allow Sheridan to raise the issue in an ongoing appeal of the dismissal in the Washington State Court of Appeals in Spokane. Tamosaitis also brought a whistleblower case against the Department of Energy and URS in Eastern Washington District U.S. Court.

That case also was dismissed and is on appeal before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

After the Friday hearing, Bechtel issued a statement saying its focus remains on safely designing and building the vitrification plant.

It called Tamosaitis’ claims meritless and said he has been given every opportunity to demonstrate the validity of his claim against Bechtel, but has repeatedly failed to do so.

Sheridan continues to work to get the case heard by a jury.

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