Hanford whistleblower asks to drop lawsuit; other legal action under way

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldApril 27, 2014 

Vit plant Hanford

Rebar and concrete walls are installed last fall at the top of the High-Level Waste Facility at the Hanford vitrification plant.

COURTESY BECHTEL NATIONAL

Hanford whistleblower Donna Busche has filed a request to drop her federal lawsuit against URS Energy and Construction and Bechtel National.

However, she plans to file a new claim -- her third -- with the Department of Labor after being fired from her URS job as the manager of environmental and nuclear safety for Hanford's $12.3 billion vitrification plant, according to court documents.

Bechtel is the Department of Energy contractor responsible for building the plant and URS is its primary subcontractor.

Busche already has another whistleblower complaint pending with the Department of Labor. And the federal lawsuit was filed last year after the Department of Labor failed to make a decision on her first complaint within one year.

The Energy Reorganization Act requires a DOE whistleblower to file complaints with the Department of Labor and gives the agency a year to act before a case may be pursued in court.

In her lawsuit she said that she feared Bechtel and URS were working to fire her in retaliation for raising safety issues concerning the operation of the vitrification plant, which will treat up to 56 million gallons of radioactive waste.

Later in 2013 she filed the second Department of Labor claim, saying retaliation had continued and increased while her initial complaint was being considered.

Among the allegations she outlined in court documents were that Bechtel reorganized and reduced her authority, URS no longer considered her a senior manager, she was excluded from meetings and the two companies countermanded the technical decisions she had been hired to make.

Her federal court case had been put on hold until May, after her attorneys asked that the case be halted until this fall while her second Department of Labor claim was considered and possibly eventually included in the federal lawsuit.

At the same time URS had asked that part of her case against them be dismissed as claims were raised in the case about alleged ongoing retaliation not in the original Department of Labor claim.

URS asked that any case be heard as soon as possible. Both URS and Bechtel have denied she was subjected to retaliation, and employees named in the lawsuit have had their careers besmirched, said a URS attorney.

Busche's attorneys said they planned to ask URS and Bechtel to allow the court case to be voluntarily dismissed, according to court documents. But if they don't agree, her attorneys will ask the court to dismiss it, according to court documents.

The ruling to halt her case until May was made Feb. 10 and several days later she was fired.

At a Senate subcommittee hearing in March, James Taylor, general manager for the URS division working on the vitrification plant, said Busche was fired after an individual raised "severe" concerns about her conduct and behavior.

Busche told the Herald when she was fired that ongoing hostility toward her on the job had increased after the court hearing where her case was temporarily halted.

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

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