Bechtel wants whistleblower case dismissed

A federal judge is considering whether a case brought by Hanford whistleblower Walter Tamosaitis against the contractor building the Hanford vitrification plant should be dismissed.

Judge Robert Whaley heard motions Tuesday in U.S. Eastern Washington District Court in Yakima on several motions in the case, including whether the case should be dismissed.

Tamosaitis sued Bechtel National, which is building the vit plant, and URS Corp., his employer and the prime subcontractor on the project, after he was dismissed from work at the plant in July.

Tamosaitis raised concerns about how safely the plant would operate, which put in jeopardy a $6 million payment Bechtel was hoping to earn from the Department of Energy, said Jack Sheridan, Tamosaitis' attorney. On July 2, a day after Tamosaitis listed safety issues at a meeting, he was escorted from his vit plant office and reassigned to a job off Hanford without meaningful work, Sheridan said.

Now he shares a basement office with copy machines, Sheridan said. Tamosaitis previously was the research and technology manager for the $12.2 billion vitrification plant, which is planned to turn high level radioactive waste into a stable glass form for disposal.

URS countered in court documents that on July 1, Tamosaitis sent an e-mail to consultants on the project, making what URS thought were inappropriate comments about an e-mail sent by Frank Russo, Bechtel project director for the vit plant. URS said the e-mail misrepresented the views of a group of experts who had advised DOE on the plant.

"The e-mail upset DOE as well as the experts," URS said in court documents.

Russo responded by telling URS to remove Tamosaitis from the project for objectionable conduct, and Tamosaitis was escorted from the building the next day.

Tamosaitis responded by filing a retaliation complaint with the Department of Labor and a lawsuit against Bechtel, URS and the key people involved in removing him from the vitrification plant project.

Defendants want the lawsuit dismissed, in part, because they do not believe that Tamosaitis should be able to pursue claims both in court and also with the Department of Labor. The Department of Labor can offer Tamosaitis more remedies, said Timothy Lawlor, attorney for URS.

Defendants also argued that Tamosaitis was not fired, just moved to a different job, and that Washington state law does not regulate job transfers. Tamosaitis continues to make the same wage and benefits, but has argued that he has lost the chance to advance his career.

Whaley made no ruling Tuesday.