Hanford whistleblower plans to move case to federal court

Hanford whistleblower Walt Tamosaitis plans to file a lawsuit against the Department of Energy and Hanford subcontractor URS in federal court.

At the same time, he will continue his case against DOE contractor Bechtel National in Benton County Superior Court.

His attorney, Jack Sheridan, filed a notice with the Department of Labor this week giving a required 15 days notice of the intent to file suit in Eastern Washington Federal District Court.

Tamosaitis filed a complaint with the Department of Labor last year, but federal administrative cases may be moved to federal court if they have not been resolved within a year.

His attorney has been pursuing a claim against Bechtel, alleging it interfered with his employment with its subcontractor URS, but the Department of Labor filing notice indicates he will be pursing a whistleblower case in federal court.

Tamosaitis recently moved to drop URS from the lawsuit filed in Benton County Superior Court, which would allow him to pursue the whistleblower claim in federal court. That case originally was filed against Bechtel and URS and some of their managers. It is scheduled for trial in May 2012.

Tamosaitis is the former manager of research and technology at the $12.2 billion Hanford vitrification plant being built to turn radioactive waste into a stable glass form for disposal.

That job ended abruptly when he raised concerns about how safely the plant would operate, which put in jeopardy much of a $6 million payment Bechtel was hoping to earn from DOE, according to his attorney.

On July 2, 2010, a day after Tamosaitis listed safety issues at a meeting, he was escorted from his vit plant office and reassigned to a job in a basement office he's shared with a copy machine for more than a year, according to court documents. He has been given no meaningful work, according to his attorney.

URS countered in legal documents that July 1, 2010, Tamosaitis sent an email to consultants on the project, making what the consultants and URS interpreted as inappropriate comments about an email sent by Bechtel leadership. Bechtel and URS also have said they had been looking for another assignment for Tamosaitis before July 1, 2010, although URS said in a legal document that none had been found.

In recent filings with the Department of Labor, Bechtel said Tamosaitis' own documents reveal that his motivation was financial and personal, and that just days before July 1, 2010, he embraced the design he later called unsafe.

Bechtel alleged that before Tamosaitis was removed from the project, he was concerned with receiving a bonus for meeting a deadline for resolving the same issue to which Bechtel's payment was tied.

He also was concerned with continuing to work at Hanford rather than being transferred to a project elsewhere in the nation or overseas, according to Bechtel.

Bechtel and URS have denied that Tamosaitis lost his position for being a whistleblower.

* More Hanford news at hanfordnews.com.