Kennewick Mayor Steve Young is named in a lawsuit that alleges he retaliated against a Hanford employee after she was mistakenly suspected of writing an anonymous note critical of him.
Young, the Mission Support Alliance vice president of portfolio management, was her direct supervisor.
Mission Support Alliance is a prime contractor for the Department of Energy for cleanup work at the Hanford nuclear reservation. The contractor also was named in the lawsuit, along with former chief operating officer David Ruscitto.
Julie Atwood, a Hanford manager for Mission Support Alliance, received positive reviews during 30 years for her work for the state of Washington and contractors at Hanford, according to documents filed by her attorney in Benton County Superior Court on Friday.
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She was pressured to resign Sept. 19, 2013, shortly after a human resources official said an investigation of her had found no wrongdoing, according to documents filed by attorney Jack Sheridan.
A typewritten note was received by human resources officials early in September 2013 accusing Young of creating a hostile work environment for women.
Shortly after that, Young called a meeting to inform lead workers of the complaint, but Atwood was not notified of the meeting, according to the lawsuit.
One of the lead workers at the meeting noticed Atwood was not there and offered to go get her, but Young said he would talk to Atwood later.
About a week later, on Sept. 9, Ruscitto, who has since retired, told a Hanford DOE official that Atwood was being investigated for timecard fraud, the lawsuit said.
At that time, human resources officials had not been told to investigate Atwood, and it was highly unusual for Hanford contractors to discuss internal personnel investigations with DOE before they had been conducted and completed, the lawsuit said.
On Sept. 12 a human resources official and an employee concerns specialist were told to conduct an investigation of Young and Atwood with a deadline to finish by Sept. 18, the lawsuit said.
When Atwood was questioned about Young, she said he treated female employees differently than male employees, although she was not the employee who had written the anonymous note, Sheridan said.
She also told the investigator that Young frequently conducted city of Kennewick business on Mission Support Alliance time, which is charged to the federal government.
During the same time period, Young scrutinized Atwood’s time sheets, and he asked another employee to document her attendance without her knowledge, the lawsuit said.
Many of Atwood’s job duties required her working with DOE and contractor employees, which was usually done in a meeting room or at their work sites, taking her away from her office frequently, the lawsuit said. The meetings were listed on her computerized calendar.
An investigator focusing on Atwood’s timecards told higher-level officials on Sept. 17 that no indication had been found of timecard fraud, the lawsuit said. When the investigator was told to “figure it out,” she replied that she hoped the probe of Atwood was not a smokescreen to deflect attention from something else.
The same investigator pulled Atwood out of a training session that Atwood was leading Sept. 19 to request more information about her timecard entries.
The entries were for dates that Atwood had been furloughed because of federal budget issues, the lawsuit said.
Near the end of the meeting, the investigator telephoned her own manager in front of Atwood and said she had found no indication of timecard fraud. A few minutes later, while still in Atwood’s office, the investigator was called and told to have Atwood report to the office of a human resources manager.
Atwood was told at that meeting that she was being fired for misconduct, according to court documents. She protested that she had just been cleared of wrongdoing and that there had been no time for the investigator to write her report.
Atwood said she was pressured to sign a resignation letter at the risk of being fired and losing the benefits she accrued during the past 13 years at Hanford.
She was told Young and Ruscitto were “on board” with her termination, the lawsuit said.
She was escorted by a Mission Support Alliance attorney as she removed her belongings during work hours from her office in the Richland Federal Building. No hand truck was available, so she was forced to make repeated trips through the building with her belongings piled in a wheelchair.
She believes she has been blacklisted from positions doing other federal work at Hanford by defendants, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks lost pay and benefits, and damages for injury to Atwood’s reputation and emotional distress.
Mission Support Alliance does not comment on ongoing investigations. Young did not respond to a telephone message left by the Herald. Ruscitto could not be reached.