A settlement agreement has been reached between Hanford whistleblower Shelly Doss, a former environmental specialist at the tank farms, and tank farm contractor Washington River Protection Solutions.
Neither side has revealed the details of the settlement, which was approved by administrative law Judge Scott Morris of the U.S. Department of Labor. He had been set to hear arguments by both sides in the case later this month.
In July 2014, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a preliminary order requiring the tank farm contractor to rehire Doss and pay her more than $220,000. It found the contractor had violated federal whistleblower provisions when it fired Doss, of Burbank, in October 2011 after she repeatedly raised issues of nuclear and environmental safety plus permit and record-keeping violations.
Both Doss and Washington River Protection Solutions had asked for a review by the administrative judge.
Both sides declined Wednesday to discuss specifics or release the settlement agreement, which was announced by Hanford Challenge. The group’s attorneys filed Doss’ initial whistleblower complaint in 2011.
Doss will not be going back to work for Washington River Protection Solutions. She told the Herald she will work as a subcontractor at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
“I am really excited to finally be able to find a job and will continue to advocate for the safe cleanup out at the Hanford Site,” she said.
Morris wrote in his order approving the agreement that it was fair, adequate and not contrary to the public interest.
“It is essential that Hanford establish and maintain a safety culture that both encourages and protects the raising of safety and environmental concerns,” Tom Carpenter, Hanford Challenge executive director, said in a statement.
Washington River Protection Solutions declined comment.
The preliminary order issued last year called for the tank farm contractor to pay Doss the wages she would have received if she had continued to work at the tank farms, plus interest. It also required Washington River Protection Solutions to pay Doss $20,000 for emotional distress, $10,000 for callous disregard of protected rights as a whistleblower, $4,381 for her expenses and her attorney fees.
When Washington River Protection Solutions filed an objection, the requirements in the preliminary order were suspended, including the requirement that Doss get her former job back.
The investigation by the Department of Labor found that Doss had filed a whistleblower complaint while employed at the tank farms in 2009, which was settled with the help of the Hanford Concerns Council.
She continued to raise potential nuclear and environmental safety issues and permit and record-keeping violations after the settlement, only to be taken off projects until she had few work assignments left, the investigation found. Two managers portrayed her during investigation interviews as a bothersome employee who would not stop bringing up issues.
However, there was no evidence of any progressive discipline that would have supported the two managers’ portrayal of her as a problem employee until she was counseled about an email communication issue shortly before she was laid off, according to the investigation.
Washington River Protection Solutions said she was among more than 200 employees who were laid off in fall 2011 to align staff with federal funding and current work.
“The employee’s raising of safety or environmental questions was not a factor in the selection for layoff,” the company said in one of the few statements it made about the whistleblower complaint.
The investigation found that Doss was one of just two of the contractor’s 25 environmental specialists who were laid off. The contractor told investigators the layoffs were based on employee rankings. But investigators disagreed, finding that Doss’ performance evaluations put her among the top half of the environmental specialists and likely the top quarter.
The layoff was actually a firing, because her vacant position was then filled and she was not contacted to apply for the position, the investigation found.
The person hired for her former position had less relevant experience, according to the investigation.
Washington River Protection Solutions said Doss was not rehired because she did not meet the minimum requirements for the position, according to Department of Labor documents, but the investigation found that she did meet requirements.
“There is sufficient evidence to show that (Doss) was blacklisted,” said Steve Gossman, an assistant regional administrator for the Department of Labor in a contractor notification of findings.
Doss told the Herald in August that her job was to make sure the tank farm contractor followed permit requirements and federal and state regulations. She negotiated with regulators and brought issues to the attention of company management so they could be addressed.
“I wasn’t trying to get the company in trouble when I was finding these things,” Doss said. She had worked at Hanford since 1988.