Injunction granted in Hanford subcontracting dispute

A federal judge has prohibited a Hanford subcontractor from hiring or even contacting employees of another company that has accused it of "hijacking" employees it found for Hanford jobs.

Federal Judge Edward Shea of Eastern Washington District Court granted substantial portions of a preliminary injunction requested by Oxford Global Resources, an international company, against BNL Technical Services, a small business in Richland.

In addition, he ordered the twocompanies into mediation.

At issue is hiring being done at Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), the Hanford tank farm contractor, since it began receiving $326 million in federal economic stimulus money. WRPS expects to bring on board nearly 100 engineer/contractors over 12 months, according to court documents.

Oxford told the court that it had placed employees with WRPS in the past by going through ELR Consulting, a small Kennewick business that WRPS had preapproved as a subcontractor. ELR Consulting can help meet certain WRPS goals for small-business subcontracting, including subcontracting with minority or disabled veteran-owned companies.

WRPS later asked Oxford for help hiring additional specialty engineers and interviewed and agreed to hire four candidates located and recommended by Oxford, according to the court order.

Oxford signed employment contracts with them, gave two of them cash advances to defray relocation costs, then arranged for ELR to subcontract the engineers to WRPS, the court order said.

Oxford does not qualify as a small business and was not one of three preapproved subcontractors for WRPS.

However, WRPS then sent its three preapproved subcontractors, which included BNL, a request for bids for three of the employees and included the information that they worked for Oxford, said the court order.

BNL contacted the three engineers less than a week before they were scheduled to start work at Hanford and recruited them for BNL, said the court order. BNL told the engineers that Oxford could not subcontract directly with WRPS, which the court foundwas true after Oxford claimed the statement had defamed Oxford.

BNL also offered better compensation and benefits, the court said.

"Anxious for their jobs, the engineers agreed to let BNL submit bids for them," said the preliminary injunction order signed by Shea.

"BNL ultimately won those contracts because, without having to charge for locating or screening the engineers, it easily submitted the lowest bid," the court order said.

Since then, WRPS has put in place some protections to prevent the situation from recurring, the court said. Now when WRPS requests bids for preferred candidates it does not name the candidates. That allows other preapproved subcontractors to find equally qualified candidates "without facilitating the misappropriation that occurred in this case," the order said.

However, there is nothing in the legal record that demonstrates these protections are guaranteed to remain in place, the court order said.

"Moreover, BNL could circumvent the protections if it stumbles on or seeks out Oxford's employee engineers," the court order said. "If that happens, it will no longer be profitable for Oxford to have WRPS as a client, and it will suffer uncertain damages as a result."

As the court case proceeds, BNL is prohibited from submitting proposals to furnish Oxford employee consultants to WRPS, contacting any Oxford employee consultants or employing any Oxford employee.

The court found that the preliminary injunction is in the public interest because "delays caused by litigation and usurpation of employees" could interfere with WRPS' important work at Hanford.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533;