Two former workers at the Hanford Site Waste Treatment Plant are accusing contractor Bechtel National in separate lawsuits of laying them off after they raised safety concerns.
A jury trial has been set for July 2, 2019, for the lawsuit from Curtis W. Hall II, followed by a jury trial scheduled for Sept. 9, 2019, for Walter Ford, both in the Richland courthouse of U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington.
Bechtel is building and commissioning the Waste Treatment Plant, which will convert into glass for disposal a large portion of 56 million gallons of radioactive waste left by Hanford’s former mission of plutonium production for U.S. nuclear weapons. The company has disputed the allegations made by both former workers.
Hall, a controls and instrumentation engineer, is making his second retaliation claim against Bechtel after being first laid off in 2005. When he claimed retaliation for raising safety issues, the Department of Energy Office of Hearings and Appeals Decisions ordered him reinstated in late 2008.
He was again laid off in November 2017 and claimed it was in retaliation for raising numerous issues about whether work done now will allow the vitrification plant to safely operate when construction and commissioning are completed. His concerns ranged from reduced nuclear standards for fire service water to what he said was potentially faulty instrumentation and control equipment.
Bechtel alleged in court documents the issues raised by Hall had all been previously raised, investigated, and addressed, but that Hall raised them again to deflect attention from his own performance shortcomings.
In millwright Ford’s case, the Department of Labor ruled in 2015 that his role as a whistleblower during his 35-year career at Hanford contributed to Bechtel’s decision to lay him off in November 2011. He was scrutinized and treated more harshly than other employees, the agency found.
Bechtel objected to the ruling and a hearing was held in spring 2016 before a Department of Labor administrative law judge. But the judge left at the Department of Labor before issuing a ruling. Ford opted to take the case to federal court rather than participating in a second Labor Department hearing.
Bechtel spokesman George Rangel pointed out that the company laid off many workers in 2011 and 2012 when construction was suspended on the Waste Treatment Plant Pretreatment Facility and parts of the High-Level Waste Facility after technical issues were raised. Ford was one of the workers laid off and the evidence will show Bechtel carried out the layoff properly, Rangel said.