State appeals court rules against Hanford whistleblower

Tri-City HeraldJuly 1, 2014 

Walter Tamosaitis

— The Washington State Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling that dismissed the case brought by Hanford whistleblower Walter Tamosaitis against Bechtel National.

A Benton County Superior Court judge was correct to dismiss the case because Tamosaitis failed to show he had lost wages or other money as a result of being removed from work on the Hanford vitrification plant, the appeals court found in a decision published Tuesday.

Tamosaitis, the former manager of the vit plant’s research and technology group, said he planned to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

Bechtel is confident that the courts will affirm their previous rulings should Tamosaitis appeal, said Bechtel spokesman Todd Nelson.

The $12.3 billion vitrification plant is being built to turn up to 56 million gallons of waste left from past weapons plutonium production into a stable glass form for disposal.

In the Benton County case, Tamosaitis filed a lawsuit claiming that Bechtel had interfered with his business relationship with URS Corp.

Bechtel holds the Department of Energy contract to build the vitrification plant and URS, Tamosaitis’ former employer, is its primary subcontractor.

However, after Tamosaitis was removed from the vit plant in July 2010, he continued to be employed by URS until fall 2013, when he was laid off.

Tamosaitis presented some evidence suggesting that his removal resulted in him not being considered for some other positions at the vitrification plant, but there was no evidence those positions would have resulted in higher pay, according to the appeals court decision.

The court also found that he did not offer sufficient proof for his argument that he had not advanced to URS’s executive pay grades because his reputation had been damaged.

In 2010 Bechtel was under pressure to finish solving a group of major issues related to mixing radioactive waste in the plant, allowing parts of the design and construction of the plant to proceed.

Bechtel needed to close out the mixing issues, raised by a review team several years earlier, by June 30, 2010, to earn an incentive payment of about $5 million from DOE, according to appeals court documents.

Bechtel also hoped that a timely resolution of the mixing issues would persuade Congress to budget an additional $50 million for the vitrification plant project.

However, in spring of 2010, outside engineers found a flaw in the testing parameters that were used to validate the design of waste mixers to be installed in the vitrification plant. Tamosaitis and a number of other engineering professionals agreed with the finding and called for additional testing.

That put Tamosaitis at loggerheads with Bechtel and its goal to close out the mixing issue on schedule, according to court documents. Bechtel solicited contrary opinions from other professionals and also tried to get some of the dissenting professionals to retract their opinions, according to court documents.

The mixing issue was declared closed on June 30, 2010, and the next day Tamosaitis sent out an email to some of the consultants and professionals who had supported his position.

The message, which included disparaging comments about a consultant with an opposing view, eventually found its way into the hands of Bechtel’s director of the vitrification plant.

The Bechtel director complained to URS, which removed Tamosaitis from the vit plant project.

Although Tamosaitis continued to work for URS, he did not again have an assignment that approached the same responsibility he had at the vit plant, according to court documents.

The appeals court also upheld the lower court’s refusal to throw out its decision when Tamosaitis said he had new evidence of damages, including lost incentive pay.

Tamosaitis also has a claim before the U.S. Department of Labor and has an appeal pending on a federal court lawsuit against URS and DOE that was dismissed before going to trial.

Work has been stopped on key portions of the vitrification plant to resolve mixing and other technical issues and a laboratory has been built at Washington State University Tri-Cities to study mixing issues.

-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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