August 21, 2015
Today, Julie Atwood, a former senior project manager with Hanford contractor Mission Support Alliance, LLC, also known as MSA, filed a lawsuit against MSA in Benton County Superior Court alleging retaliation, discrimination, and wrongful termination. Also named in the lawsuit are Steve Young, MSA’s Vice President of Portfolio Management, and part-time Mayor of Kennewick, and MSA’s former COO David Ruscitto.
In her complaint, Ms. Atwood alleges that after having worked for approximately 30 years in the field of regulatory compliance, waste management and environmental affairs in Washington State, in 2010, MSA hired Ms. Atwood as Project Manager of Environmental Regulatory and Waste Management, a position she held until she was terminated in September 2013. Prior to her termination, she alleges she had excellent performance evaluations.
The complaint alleges that in September 2013, Mr. Young mistakenly believed that Ms. Atwood was responsible for an anonymous report to MSA alleging that he was creating a hostile work environment. Human Resources Principal Christine DeVere began an investigation into the report as part of her duties as the MSA’s EEO officer. She met with Young, who said he would resign and also indicated that Atwood was the person behind the report.
The complaint also alleges that after the anonymous report, and contrary to policy and practice, Ruscitto told DOE that Atwood was being investigated for time card fraud. This happened before any investigation was commenced on any issue. Atwood alleges that Ruscitto’s statements to DOE damaged her reputation.
The complaint further alleges that within hours of DeVere talking with Young, MSA Human Resources Vice-President Todd Beyers pulled DeVere off the investigation despite her warnings that failure to investigate could result in liability to the company. Two days later, DeVere was put back on a new investigation, allegedly conceived by Beyers and Chris Jensen, Director of Independent Oversight and Employee Concerns, into whether Ms. Atwood had engaged in time card fraud. The anonymous complaint would also be investigated, but Ms. DeVere would not be the lead investigator. Instead, the investigation would be led by Employee Concerns Specialist Wendy Robbins.
The complaint alleges that Robbins and DeVere interviewed Atwood, and after reviewing time records, concluded that no time fraud had occurred. Atwood also told the investigators that Young did create a hostile work environment against women, and treated women differently. She also reported that Young frequently conducted City of Kennewick business on MSA time, and charged his time to the government contract.
The complaint alleges that Robbins and DeVere reported their findings and Atwood’s allegations to Beyers and Jensen, who ignored the findings saying that they were going to terminate Atwood.
The complaint alleges that Atwood was brought into a room and forced to sign a resignation letter on the threat that she would lose her benefits unless she signed. She was then forced to pick up her possessions from her office and was escorted out of the building by MSA attorney Steve Cherry. Because there was no handcart, Atwood had to load her possessions onto a wheelchair, and push her belongings while others looked on, which was humiliating.
Jack Sheridan, the attorney representing Ms. Atwood, said, “The facts alleged in Ms. Atwood’s complaint are some of the most egregious examples of retaliation I’ve ever seen. The humiliating walk she was forced to take pushing her belongings in a wheelchair for all to see on the day she was fired is reminiscent of Dr. Tamosaitis’ removal from his position at Hanford. I guess Hanford contractors haven’t learned their lesson yet.” Hanford whistleblower Dr. Walter Tamosaitis recently settled a whistle retaliation case against another Hanford contractor for $4.1 million.
Ms. Atwood is seeking damages for lost wages and other unspecified damages.