Lawsuit against Energy Northwest dismissed

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldApril 7, 2014 

Spent rods

This photo shows spent nuclear fuel bundles inside the open core of the reactor north of Richland during a refueling outage.

FILE — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

A lawsuit brought against Energy Northwest under a whistleblower law has been dismissed in federal court.

Energy Northwest presented compelling evidence to show that David W. Sanders was fired for inappropriate payments to a temporary Energy Northwest worker who had a relationship with his daughter, according to Judge Thomas Rice.

Sanders approved payments of $7,177 for travel costs and per diem to cover food and temporary lodging for his daughter's fiance, Energy Northwest said. The fiance, who claimed in documents that he was maintaining his residency in South Carolina, had lived in the Tri-Cities with Sanders' daughter for eight months before working at Energy Northwest and had a child with her, according to the lawsuit.

Energy Northwest requested the lawsuit, which was filed in 2012, be dismissed.

Sanders, a maintenance supervisor, claimed he was fired in retaliation for disagreeing with Bruce Pease and sought whistleblower protection. Pease was the security compliance supervisor when disagreements began.

However, the judge concluded that the two men were equals and that Pease did not supervise Sanders and did not fire him.

"Sanders has contrived a retaliation claim out of what appears to be a personality conflict with Pease," the judge said in the order dismissing the case. Sanders' actions were not based on protecting the safety of Energy Northwest's nuclear plant near Richland, which would have offered him whistleblower protection under the Energy Reorganization Act, according to the judge.

Sanders and Pease disagreed over who should resolve an issue related to security clearance for some maintenance workers and also why the same issue in Pease's security department was rated as a less severe problem.

The disagreements did not specifically implicate safety, the judge ruled.

The two also disagreed over changes Sanders proposed to procedures for security badges. But Sanders admitted that the changes were related to administrative ease and to save money, rather than to directly promote safety, the judge found.

Energy Northwest values the input of its employees and works hard to make sure their voices are heard and their concerns are addressed, said Energy Northwest attorney Bob Dutton in a statement.

But the court found Sanders' activities were not covered by whistleblower protections and that Energy Northwest presented evidence that Sanders was not fired for discriminatory reasons, according to Energy Northwest.

"With this decision, we can focus our efforts on continued savings for the Northwest ratepayers," Dutton said.

Sanders' attorney could not be reached for comment.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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