We are trial lawyers representing victims of corporate and government abuse and discrimination. Our clients are whistleblowers, persons of color, persons who speak with accents, women, persons with disabilities, gay workers, older workers, persons who have been exposed to toxic chemicals, and persons who have been fired for exercising their rights.
"We fight those who abuse power and make them accountable in front of a jury."
DISCRIMINATION, WHISTEBLOWERS, AND PUBLIC RECORDS ACT CASES
Phone: (206) 381-5949
Serving Seattle, Washington, and the Nation
Thurston County Jury Awards Former State Worker $75,000 in Damages for Failing To Accommodate His Disabilities
August 14, 2014
Today a Thurston County jury awarded a former State Department or Revenue employee damages totaling $75,000 for terminating him in 2009, after failing to accommodate his disabilities. Grant Boyer suffers from a form of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which requires that he have immediate access to bathroom facilities. His IBS was a complication stemming from a 1993 gall bladder surgery. In 1999, he was also diagnosed with carpel tunnel syndrome. He worked as an appraiser in DOR’s Olympia office from 1999 to 2008 with both disabilities and was evaluated as an excellent employee. During that time he used Dragon Speak software to enter data into his computer and needed no accommodation for the IBS, because his building had a sufficient number of bathrooms. In 2008, he took a job with DOR in its Richland office. Upon his arrival in March 2008, he learned that the building had only one stall in the men’s bathroom, which was shared by all male DOR employees and the public, and that the computer network was too slow to use Dragon Speak. He asked for accommodation, proposing at one point that he be allowed to work from home, or to have DOR obtain a porta potty for his exclusive use, or build him bathroom. DOR refused and did nothing to accommodate his IBS. Jack Sheridan, his attorney, stated, “As a result, if the stall was occupied, Grant had about 10 minutes to find a bathroom or he would become incontinent. He would typically try to drive to a nearby mall to use their public restroom—sometimes he made it and sometimes he didn’t.” As to the carpal tunnel syndrome, instead of fixing the network, so his Dragon Speak would work, Sheridan said, “they offered him training in using Dragon Speak, which he’d been using for 5 years. He didn’t need training, he needed a working infrastructure.” As a result Mr. Boyer developed an anxiety disorder, and went out on leave in November. Sheridan said, “When Grant asked them to move him into a vacant position in Olympia in September, they said no, because they claimed the job required some travel and he couldn’t travel.” DOR managers made the claim after he drove repeatedly from Richland to Tumwater to meet with the DOR Risk Manger. Sheridan said, “He was humiliated and beaten down.” When he tried to return in 2009, the infrastructure problems were still not fixed and DOR terminated him in December 2009 claiming they could not accommodate him.
HANFORD WHISTLEBLOWER DR. WALTER TAMOSAITIS WINS FEDERAL APPEAL—CASE REMANDED TO TRIAL COURT FOR JURY TRIAL
November 7, 2014
Today the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of Hanford whistleblower Dr. Walter Tamosaitis’ federal whistleblower lawsuit against URS Energy and Construction for its complicity in removing him from his job at the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant in 2010. Bechtel National is the primary DOE contractor at Hanford and URS Energy and Construction is its main subcontractor. Dr. Tamosaitis was employed by URS. He alleges that in the summer of 2010, he opposed Bechtel’s claims that mixing issues regarding the highly toxic and radioactive sludge stored in the more than 100 Hanford tanks had been resolved. Within a few days after he voiced his opposition, he was removed from his management position at Hanford, escorted off the property, and assigned to a basement office performing no meaningful work for fifteen months. He was only transferred to an aboveground office after testifying before Congress, but still given no meaningful work.
In reversing the trial court’s dismissal of his claim, the 9th Circuit found, “there is 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.”
In remanding the case back to the trial court, the 9th Circuit held, that a reasonable jury could find, “that URS E&C ratified Bechtel’s retaliation by transferring Tamosaitis, despite knowledge of Bechtel’s retaliatory motive. Equally supported is the reasonable inference that URS E&C could have refused to carry out Tamosaitis’s removal but failed to do so.”
Jack Sheridan, Tamosaitis’ attorney, stated, “This is a groundbreaking decision that will empower other whistleblowers working at nuclear facilities, because it recognizes that a DOE subcontractor may be held liable for doing the bidding of the DOE prime contractor when the prime contractor wants to retaliate against a whistleblower who works for the sub.” Sheridan also noted, “This is also the first appellate case recognizing that these whistleblowers get a jury trial when they go into federal court.” Sheridan says that he expects that the case will go to the jury sometime in 2015.
July 31, 2014
Today, Dr. Walter Tamosaitis Filed a petition with the State Supreme Court asking the Court to hold that the common law supports his claim against Bechtel National Inc. (BNI) for whistleblower retaliation because BNI interfered with his employment relationship with URS (Tamosaitis’ employer and BNI’s main subcontractor at Hanford) causing him to be removed from the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant. The Court of Appeals found that Tamosaitis could not state a claim because URS and BNI did not take away any money from him when they removed him from his job, took away his job responsibilities, and moved him to a basement office thereby destroying his career. The claim is called tortious interference, and Dr. Tamosaitis is asking the Supreme Court to find that in the modern employment relationship, those acts caused damage by damaging his employment relationship and destroying his career, which should satisfy the “money” element of the claim. The Court will likely decide in the coming months whether to accept review. Sheridan said, “the meaning of the common law, like the meaning of the Constitution, evolves over time, and it’s about time the common law catches up with modern employment relationships.”
December 15, 2011
In December, Dr. Tamosaitis was called before Congress to testify about whistleblower retaliation at Hanford and then invited to speak about his experiences on the Rachel Maddow Show.
Click here to see excerpts from his testimony shown on the Rachel Maddow Show
On November 9, 2011, Dr. Tamosaitis filed a federal lawsuit against DOE seeking an injunction to prevent DOE from automatically siding with contractors who retaliate against whistleblowers. Sheridan said, "The contractors claim attorney client privilege with DOE in whistleblower litigation. How can DOE provide oversight if they are helping the contractors defend?" Also named is URS, his employer. Dr. Tamosaitis is asking the federal judge to order URS to return him to a position of leadership and responsibility at the Vit Plant. Sheridan stated, "The reason that DOE is in this lawsuit is because we allege its managers supported or even initiated the removal of Dr. Tamosaitis from the Waste Treatment Plant ("WTP" or or Vit Plant) and participated in the decision to prevent his return. Plaintiff seeks money damages from URS.A separate lawsuit is proceeding forward in state court in Benton County against Bechtel for intentionally interfering with his relationship with URS by participating in the decision to terminate him from the WTP. That case is set for trial in May 2012.
Dr. Tamosaitis was removed from his position at Hanford, escorted off the Hanford property, and is currently assigned to a basement office performing no meaningful work. His complaint alleges that just before his removal, he called into question whether Bechtel met a contract milestone that resulted in a multi-million dollar bonus. Emails recently obtained from URS in pretrial discovery show that on July 1, 2010, a day after Bechel claimed the work was done supporting the bonus, DOE Manager Dale Knutson, was in discussions with Bechtel Manager Frank Russo in which Russo criticized Dr. Tamosaitis' concerns over the WTP. Russo wrote, "Walt is killing us." See email exchanges below. In response to an email written by Dr. Tamosaitis discussing his concerns about WTP, Knutson wrote to Russo,
"If this shows up in the press we will be sticking to our previous comment . . . Deliberate haste will be our approach."Bechtel and URS were hired by the DOE to design and build the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant, which will be an industrial complex of facilities for separating and vitrifying (immobilizing in glass) millions of gallons of high-level nuclear tank waste stored in 177 large underground tanks on the Hanford site.
DOE has stated that it intends to begin building the plant before the design is completed to meet time goals. Mr. Tamosaitis is investigating whether the "deliberate haste" is related to this DOE approach.
Vitrification technology involves blending the high-level nuclear tank waste with glass-forming materials and heating it to over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The mixture is then poured into stainless steel canisters to cool and solidify. In this glass form, the high-level nuclear tank waste is currently considered stable and impervious to the environment, and its radioactivity will dissipate over hundreds or thousands of years.
Dr. Tamosaitis was removed from Hanford on July 1, 2010. In a July 28, 2010 email exchange between WTP Manager Russo, and Bechtel National President David Walker (Russo's boss), and Bechtel Parent Company President J. Scott Ogilvie, they reveal close communications and cooperation with DOE managers on what they call the “WTP Tamosaitis event.” In one email, Walker confirms that he spoke with DOE manager Ines Triay about the “Tamosaitis event.” According to Walker, Triay said, “we will manage through the technical issues and DNFSB investigation part satisfactorily although at cost of significant disruption/time etc.” She went on to say that they “Need to be sure ‘Hill’ gets covered and protect the $50 million.” See July 28, 2010 email exchange below. In his deposition, Russo confirms the names of the DOE officials involved, that the Hill is Capitol Hill, but he attributes the “protect the $50 million” comment to his boss, David Walker. See Russo deposition excerpts below.
Russo confirmed that the concern about the money was related to Dr. Tamosaitis (see Russo page 324-325 below):
Q. (By Mr. Sheridan) All right. But -- but it's true, is it not, that you had some concerns that the $50 million -- that Dr. Tamosaitis' conduct may in some way jeopardize the 50 million?
A. He had some concerns.
Q. Your boss?
A. (Nods head.) Yes.
Although BNI and URS claim that Dr. Tamosaitis was being reassigned to a position off the WTP, plaintiff has obtained an announcement dated July 1, 2010, showing that hours before he was removed from the WTP, management drafted and circulated an announcement showing that “Dr. Walt Tamosaitis will manage this group to be staffed by members of the existing R&T organization in alignment with scope completion.” See below, July 1, 2010 email on reassignment.
On June 13, 2011, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (“DNFSB”) released a report analyzing the failures in the safety culture at Hanford, which is operated by the Department of Energy (“DOE”). The report documented the removal of Dr. Tamosaitis from the Hanford site by Bechtel and URS after he raised technical and safety concerns and called upon DOE Secretary Chu to “conduct a non-adversarial review of Dr. Tamosaitis' removal and his current treatment by both DOE and contractor management and how that is affecting the safety culture at WTP.”
The report made two major findings:
Click here to view Federal Complaint
Listen to Northwest Public Radio Report Here
See KEPR TV Report Here
Click below to see a copy of the 50 Item Issue List that Dr. Tamosaitis brought to the July 1, 2010 meeting with Bechtel and URS managers (discussed at pages 19-20 of civil complaint above) just one day after Bechtel claimed that it met its June 30, 2010 contract requirements to earn a $6 million fee. On July 2, 2010, his Hanford badge was pulled, his blackberry was confiscated, and Dr. Tamosaitis was escorted off the Hanford premises. Now he shares a basement office with two copying machines and has been assigned no meaningful work.
Click here to see Bechtel email string from April 2010 acknowledging that if they fail to close the M3 issue by June 30, 2010, they will lose 80% of Bechtel's fee.
Click here to see DOE contract provision warning of need to close M3 issue or risk forfeiture of 80% of fee due on June 30, 2010.
Tom Carpenter and the Hanford Challenge are working with Jack to provide support and to make sure Walt's story is told in the halls of Congress and in the media.
January 2012, Seattle Washington
Bruce Johnson settled his discrimination case against Chevron after winning an important appeal that established how disability discrimination cases will be handled by the Courts in Washington for years to come. Jack Sheridan said, "We are very pleased that Bruce and his family can put this behind them and get on with their lives. They are heroes for standing up against discrimination." The terms of the settlement are confidential.
In late 2011, the Washington State Supreme Court declined to review the December 2010 decision by the Court of Appeals granting a new trial to former Chevron truck driver Bruce Johnson. Chevron had fought hard to get Supreme Court review having enlisted the aid of the Washington Defense Trial Lawyers Association and the Association of Washington Business to submit "friend of the court" briefs arguing for a return to the old days when employers could more easily ignore requests for accommodation by their employees by claiming they were not "medically necessary," which was a confusing and undefined term. The Supreme Court's decision to deny review is a rejection of that standard and means that more Washington employees with disabilities will obtain the accommodations guaranteed by the Washington Law Against Discrimination.
Johnson v. Chevron, 159 Wn. App. 18, 244 P.3d 438 (2010). In December 2010, in a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals ordered the trial court to grant a new trial in the disability discrimination case brought by Bruce Johnson against Chevron in 2008. King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector, the trial judge, had dismissed before trial Mr. Johnson's main claim that Chevron failed to accommodate his back injury holding that Mr. Johnson could not show that his proposed accommodation was medically necessary. The Court of Appeals found the trial court's ruling to be reversible error. Also, at Chevron's request, the trial judge erroneously instructed the jury that Mr. Johnson must prove that he was treated unfairly as compared with other workers. The Court held that "This is not the law and the error was not harmless."
Jack stated, "This is a great victory for victims of disability discrimination because it clarifies two important legal issues. First, medical necessity is not an element that needs to be proved in a failure to accommodate case." As the Court of Appeals said, the issue 'is whether Johnson’s impairment had a substantially limiting effect upon his ability to perform the job such that the accommodation was reasonably necessary, or doing the job without accommodation was likely to aggravate the impairment such that it became substantially limiting.' Second, it's been the law in Washington since 1994 that plaintiffs can prove discrimination by showing that discrimination was a substantial factor in the adverse action. But here, the judge told the jury that Mr. Johnson additionally had to show that he was treated worse than his co-workers (called comparators), which has never been the law, and since we had not put on any comparator evidence, the outcome was predictable."
Those decisions at the trial level required Mr. Johnson to file an appeal and cost him more than a year waiting for justice. Court of Appeals opinion author Judge Anne Ellington (concurrences by Judges Ann Shindler and Mary Kay Becker), did a great job in clearly stating the law and in correcting the errors below. Mr. Johnson is ready to get this case resolved fairly in front of a new jury.
The complaint alleges that Chevron knew Bruce Johnson had chronic back pain caused by his employment with Chevron, and did nothing to accommodate him except to send him home or place him on light duty. Chevron made no effort to work with Mr. Johnson or his physicians to find an accommodation so that he could continue on the job as a tanker truck driver. Once Chevron disallowed the use of Mr. Johnson’s requested accommodation, an ergonomic fuel hose drainer, it made no further effort to find an alternative accommodation.
A new trial is set for January 2012.
Click Here for the Court of Appeals Decision.
July 26, 2012
Jack Sheridan said, "the appellate briefs have now been filed and we just got word that the Court of Appeals will hear oral argument on September 12, 2012." The case has been on appeal since 2010 after the trial judge ruled that the case must be heard in an administrative forum. Jack said, "We are so pleased that Chief Woodbury's legal claim is getting reviewed by the Court of Appeals, so we can get back to trial--hopefully in early 2013."
On December 10, 2010, Jim Woodbury filed an appeal of King County Superior Court Judge Michael Hayden's decision reversing an earlier ruling and dismissing Chief Woodbury’s whistleblower complaint from Superior Court only a week before the trial was set to begin, and sending the case to be tried without a jury before an administrative law judge in a forum in which the Rules of Evidence do not apply.
Over Jack’s objections Judge Hayden heard a last minute motion to dismiss filed by the City, which argued for the second time that the case should be sent to an administrative forum instead of being heard by a jury in Superior Court. After brief oral argument, Judge Hayden adopted the City’s argument and dismissed the case.
This decision was contrary to a prior ruling early on in the case where Judge Hayden had agreed to stay the administrative proceedings and allow the claim to be heard in Superior Court by a jury.
The ruling denies Chief Woodbury of a trial by jury, which is guaranteed by the Washington Constitution. In a statement, Jack said, “We do not think that the decision is supported by any reasonable reading of the law. We think Judge Hayden’s decision is an abuse of discretion, and we are filing an appeal. We hope to be back in front a jury very soon.”
Chief Woodbury was demoted after reporting misconduct in the Fire Marshal’s Office to the Seattle Ethics and Election Commission. He reported that a fire inspector had failed to invoice First and Goal, the owner and operator of Qwest Field, for fire guard services provided by the Seattle Fire Department, in an amount totaling nearly $200,000.
Under the Seattle Whistleblower Code, complaints are supposed to be held as confidential. Sheridan said, “We were prepared to present evidence that Fire Chief Dean knew that Woodbury filed the complaint to the SEEC and that he was demoted by Dean because he filed the complaint.”
The resulting Ethics Report found that Fire Chief Dean and two of his assistant chiefs who served as SFD Fire Marshals between 2002 and 2008, "having the duty and obligation to be effective stewards of public funds, failed, despite warnings, to ensure that the fire inspector position at First & Goal was appropriately supervised, and each bears responsibility for the failure to collect $195,697 of reimbursable expenses due from F&G from 2002 through 2007."
This case will decide whether SFD employees in the future have the courage to report improper activities at the SFD, or whether they decide it's safer to remain silent or worse. That's what this case is about. No one was held accountable for retaliating against the whistleblower. It sends the wrong message to the workforce. Speak up and you will be punished. When government won't hold its managers accountable for whistleblower retaliation, then only a jury can hold them accountable. If the City had acknowledged the retaliation, apologized, and reinstated Woodbury, he would not be in court.
December 7, 2011
Today, 25 former employees of Hertz Rental Car Company filed a lawsuit in Seattle alleging that Hertz terminated them in October 2011 owing to religious, race, and national origin discrimination. The 25 plaintiffs are Muslims who were born in Somalia and speak English with an accent. Some of them have worked at Hertz for almost 15 years and have always been permitted to answer the call to prayer during work hours without clocking out. Then on September 30, 2011, Hertz managers insisted for the first time that the plaintiffs clock out before going to prayer. The complaint alleges that other Hertz employees are not required to clock out to take smoke or bathroom breaks. Jack Sheridan, the attorney representing the plaintiffs said, "After more than a decade of permitting brief prayer during work hours without clocking out, Caucasian Hertz managers have changed the rules to focus on Somali Muslims as an excuse to fire them." The complaint alleges that other Sea-Tac Muslim employees are permitted, and have always been permitted, to take the 3-5 minutes to pray without clocking out. The case was filed today in King County Superior Court and alleges violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination.
November 11, 2011, Richland, Washington
Today Donna Busche, the Manager of Environmental and Nuclear Safety for URS at the Hanford Site, filed a complaint with the Department of Labor alleging retaliation and discrimination by URS and Bechtel in violation of the Energy Reorganization Act, a federal act designed to protect whistleblowers. Ms. Busche holds a critical position at Hanford in that her job is to ensure that work performed by Hanford contractors does not violate federal environmental and nuclear safety regulations. Ms. Busche has testified at hearings held by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board ("DNFSB") and in connection with other whistleblower litigation filed by Dr. Walter Tamosaitis. Her complaint alleges that URS and Bechtel have engaged in retaliatory conduct as a result of that testimony and because she will not compromise in requiring the contractors to comply with the law.
NOVEMBER 5, 2009, SEATTLE, WA
The City of Seattle has settled a race discrimination lawsuit brought by former Seattle City Light Manager Mattie Bailey for the sum of $812,250.00. Today Bailey filed documents to dismiss her lawsuit in light of the settlement. The settlement comes more than two years after a King County jury awarded Ms. Bailey the sum of $503,195.00 ($462,000 as damages for emotional harm) for race discrimination and harassment by other City Light managers. The jury award came in February 2007 after a six-week jury trial.
At trial, Sheridan presented evidence that Bailey, who is African American, worked for City Light from 1981 until her retirement in 2008. For the first decade of her employment, Ms. Bailey proved herself as a top-level manager working as a direct report to two superintendents and heading the Communications Division. When Gary Zarker became superintendent, he reorganized Bailey’s division. Zarker gradually took away her responsibilities and gave them to Caucasian new hires. In 1999, Zarker hired Robert Royer to serve as the Director of Communications. Bailey then reported to Royer who, as a member of the executive team, reported directly to Zarker and later to Jorge Carrasco, who replaced Zarker in 2004.
Sheridan also presented evidence that under Royer, Bailey was removed from most of her managerial duties and given clerical work, such as processing invoices. At a staff meeting attended by Bailey, Royer expressed admiration for Thomas Jefferson's “fatherly relationship” to his slaves. In a private meeting with Bailey, Royer compared her with the African American movie character “Super Fly” because she was wearing sunglasses.
The jury found that City Light had created a hostile work environment in its daily treatment of Ms. Bailey and that the City had discriminated against Ms. Bailey by failing to give her equitable pay.
The City appealed the jury verdict and in 2008, the Division One Court of Appeals affirmed the jury’s verdict on the harassment claim, but overturned the pay claim following the U.S. Supreme Court holding in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc., which held that under federal law, the statute of limitations begins to run when the first paycheck is issued rather than when the plaintiff learns that she is being underpaid.
In a press release, Jack Sheridan stated, “We disagreed with the Court of Appeals’ ruling because Ledbetter was a federal case and Ms. Bailey’s case was brought under state law, which provides greater civil rights protections than federal law, but even after Congress and President Obama overturned the Ledbetter decision through legislation, we could not convince the Court of Appeals to change its decision. We had to accept that we were going to retry the case on damages.”
As to the settlement, Sheridan said, “Had we gone to a second trial, Ms. Bailey was prepared to prove her damages from the first trial and to show that after the February 2007 jury verdict, the harassment continued and that she was treated more like a office assistant than a manager, which caused her to take early retirement.”
Sheridan indicated that “Mattie was a great manager and the City wasted her as a resource because it allowed the good old boys to run the utility instead of awarding jobs based on merit.”
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