A second official at the Hanford vitrification plant has filed a federal complaint, claiming she was discriminated against for being a whistleblower on issues related to safe nuclear operations of the plant.
Donna Busche, manager of environmental and nuclear safety at the plant, filed the complaint against URS Corp. and Bechtel National with the Department of Labor.
Bechtel holds the Department of Energy contract to build the $12.2 billion plant to treat high-level radioactive waste for disposal starting in 2019. URS, which employs Busche, is Bechtel's prime subcontractor.
Busche believes she was given a written reprimand a month ago because, among other actions, her testimony to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board a year ago was contrary to the position of the DOE chief of nuclear safety, her legal complaint stated. The written reprimand listed other reasons.
The DOE Office of General Counsel earlier considered defense board allegations of witness tampering at the October 2010 public hearing in Kennewick, concluding that neither DOE nor contractor employees acted inappropriately. In contrast, the defense board concluded that a witness at the hearing, whom it did not name, was admonished by a DOE official for making statements that strayed from DOE's management policy.
During the hearing, notecards were routinely passed to witnesses, who were at a raised front table facing the defense board. But Shirley Olinger, the DOE assistant manager for the safety basis division, began censoring the notecards Busche was allowed to receive from Busche's staff, the complaint stated.
After the first day of the hearing, Ines Triay, the DOE assistant secretary for environmental management, admonished Busche, the complaint stated. Triay was angry and said in front of about 50 employees that if Busche's intent was "to piss people off," she did a very good job, the complaint stated.
The next day, Busche was approached separately by Frank Russo, Bechtel project manager; Leo Sain, a senior URS vice president; and Bill Gay, URS assistant project manager at the vitrification plant. Each asked if she could "provide a different answer" to questions she had answered during the hearing, the complaint stated.
"She understood their questions to imply that she should recant her earlier testimony," the complaint stated.
She also had some issues in the months leading up to the hearing, the complaint stated.
Her job is to ensure that adequate documentation supports company assertions regarding environmental and nuclear safety. But beginning in 2010, she "was viewed as a roadblock to meeting deadlines, rather than a valuable check against noncompliance, and managers sought ways to retaliate and to circumvent her efficiency," the complaint stated.
One manager claimed Busche was in her position illegally, and another manager refused to implement her direction related to the adequacy of the control strategy for criticality safety, the complaint stated. Engineering officials refused to support the proper classification of fire barriers, the complaint stated.
In addition, Busche notified human resources that she believed that Gay, her supervisor, had made sexist remarks to her, including saying she was attractive and should use her "feminine wiles" to better communicate with the men at URS, the complaint stated. Gay later apologized to her.
Near the beginning of 2011, Busche was assigned to report to a different supervisor, but her work environment did not improve, the complaint stated.
The new supervisor told her to stop putting technical and safety issues in writing to avoid creating a written record, the complaint stated. He isolated her and kept her out of meetings she was required to attend, the complaint stated.
Her case intersected with the other ongoing whistleblower case at the vitrification plant, a federal lawsuit brought by Walter Tamosaitis, alleging he was removed from the project for raising concerns about the vitrification plant's safe operations.
In a deposition, Busche said that a 50-item list of technical concerns raised by Tamosaitis when he was on the project included many items related to nuclear safety. That was important evidence in support of Tamosaitis' claim of whistleblower retaliation against URS, stated Busche's legal complaint.
Jack Sheridan of Seattle is the attorney for Tamosaitis and Busche.
On Oct. 12, Busche was given a corrective-action letter with allegations of misuse of employees for activities not related to work, uncivil behavior and lack of cooperation with the resulting investigation.
"This discipline was a sham and a pretext for retaliation," the complaint stated. Busche is named in the vit plant contract and cannot be removed from the project without DOE approval, Sheridan said.
She believes URS intended to discredit her on concerns related to the adequacy of the vitrification plant design and that its actions were in retaliation for her testimony at the defense board meeting and in depositions. It also was intended as retaliation for her complaints to URS and Bechtel National related to sexual discrimination and a hostile work environment, the complaint stated.
Busche previously had been the chief nuclear engineer and manager of nuclear safety at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico for URS, but she was removed from the project and reassigned to Hanford after refusing to rescind a report related to safety, according to the complaint. The 2008 report addressed a radioactive waste drum that exceeded radiation levels allowed for acceptance at the New Mexico plant, according to the complaint.
"Although URS cannot comment on the specifics of this litigation, URS has a long history of holding safety as a core value," URS said in a statement.
Safety is its top priority at the vitrification plant and its other projects, and the safety culture at the vit plant is "robust, bolstered by systems and processes to ensure that safety is paramount," URS said.
Bechtel has said that Tamosaitis was dismissed because his work was completed and he sent a disrespectful email. It had not seen Busche's Department of Labor complaint as the holiday weekend began and could not comment on it.
But Bechtel responds when employees raise issues and is in the midst of two independent reviews of the nuclear safety and quality culture at the vitrification plant, said Bechtel spokeswoman Suzanne Heaston.
Bechtel also has created a website at hanfordvitplantsafety.com to provide information about nuclear safety policies and practices. to provide information about nuclear safety policies and practices.