FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Hanford Whistleblower Vindicated, Receives $4.1 Million Settlement

What a long, strange trip it’s been for engineer Dr. Walter Tamosaitis. Well, perhaps not so much strange as it has been heart-wrenching. Nonetheless, every once in awhile those who are maligned end up being vindicated. That’s exactly what happened last week for Tamosaitis, who has been entangled in five strained years of litigation against his former employer URS (now owned by AECOM). 

On August 12, Tamosaitis agreed to a $4.1 million settlement of his federal whistleblower retaliation lawsuit against Hanford contractor URS. While AECOM refused to acknowledge any wrong-doing in the ordeal, there’s no question it didn’t want to drag on the case that could well have made the contractor look even worse than it already did. URS was hired by Bechtel to turn the radioactive sludge at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Eastern Washington into glass rods. It’s proven to be a costly and complex task, and the longer the clean up drags on the more money the contractors make.

tamosaitis

Walter Tamosaitis, photo courtesy of NW News Network.

“We are very pleased that Walter can get on with his life after five years of litigation, and that he has been vindicated,” said Jack Sheridan, the Seattle attorney who represented Tamosaitis, “This settlement sends a message to whistleblowers everywhere that integrity and truth are worth fighting for, and that you can win if you don’t give up.”

In 2011, I wrote an investigative piece for Seattle Weekly, reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund, that not only looked into the very serious safety concerns raised by Tamosaitis at the Hanford nuclear reservation, put also exposed how his superiors plotted to silence him by removing him from his position and forcing him to work in an off-site, windowless basement. It was an egregious attempt to kill the messenger — a message that put millions of contract dollars at risk. 

What URS didn’t expect, however, was that Tamosaitis would refuse to go down without a fight. He openly spoke with me about a greedy management culture at Hanford run amok. He was candid in explaining that the Hanford cleanup was a cash cow for URS and its parent contractor Bechtel, the same company accused of bilking tax-payers over its botched Iraq reconstruction projects. As such, he accused them of putting profits above safety of its employees and the public. 

Tamosaitis was in charge of overseeing a sludge mixing project at Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant (WTP), where, if certain deadlines were met, Bechtel and URS would walk away with $6 million bonus. Yet Tamosaitis wasn’t about to sign off on it, because the mixing process wasn’t working out. 

“The drive to stay on schedule is putting the whole [WTP] project at risk,” Tamosaitis told me in 2011. “”Not on my watch’ is a standard mantra among [DOE and Contract] management who like to intimidate naysayers like me. These guys would rather deal with major issues down the road than fix them up front … Cost and schedule performance trump sound science time and again.”

In 2011, Tamosaitis filed a federal whistleblower complaint under the Energy Reorganization Act (ERA). By 2013, Tamosaitis was let go for “lack of work.” Initially his case was dismissed by Federal District Court Judge Lonny Suko, who found that there was insufficient evidence to support his retaliation claim and that he didn’t have the right to a jury trial under ERA. In 2014, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overruled Judge Suko, stating there was “plenty of evidence that Bechtel encouraged URS E&C to remove Tamosaitis from the WTP site because of his whistleblowing, that URS E&C knew that Tamosaitis’s whistleblowing motivated Bechtel, and that URS E&C carried out the removal.”

The 9th Circuit also found that Tamosaitis indeed had a right to a jury trial. In July 2014, AECOM announced it would acquire URS and has since been pushing for a resolution. While no parties admitted liability, with a $4.1 million settlement, it’s clear who was victorious. Of course, the bigger issue is, will this set a precedent and help ensure that future Hanford employees aren’t afraid to step forward and voice concerns about public health and environmental safety?

That’s the hope, insists Tom Carpenter, director of the Seattle-based nonprofit watchdog group that keeps a close eye on all things Hanford. 

“This is great news for Walt and great news for the public. Walt is a hero who staked his career to raise nuclear safety issues that could have resulted in a catastrophe down the road,” Carpenter said after the settlement announcement. “His issues were investigated and validated, and those safety issues are being scrutinized and corrected. This settlement brings justice to Walt, and is a necessary step in the quest to address a broken safety culture at Hanford that has historically punished employees for bringing forward concerns.”

This piece first appeared at The Investigative Fund.

More articles by:

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank

April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail