Dr. Walter Tamosaitis worked for URS at Hanford. URS was a subcontractor to Bechtel, which was the prime contractor with the DOE at the time. In the wake of a report detailing problems with the Hanford clean-up, Dr. Tamosaitis was appointed to lead a study reviewing technical challenges within the Waste Treatment Plant project. The WTP was being built to turn Hanford’s toxic and radiological waste into glass for storage. The study identified twenty-eight technical issues, twenty-seven of which were “closed,” meaning resolved, by the planned
date of October 2009. The remaining issue, termed the M3 mixing issue proved to be a lingering and complex challenge. Dr. Tamosaitis wanted to extend the deadline for solving the issue to September 2010, while Bechtel wanted it resolved by June 2010. Failure to resolve the M3 mixing issue by June would have jeopardized Bechtel’s six million-dollar fee.
Bechtel rejected Tamosaitis’s advice and announced closure of the M3 mixing issue by June. Tamosaitis objected: He brought a fifty-point list of environmental and safety concerns to a meeting hosted by Bechtel; forwarded the same list to Bill Gay, a URS employee and WTP Assistant Project Manager; and reached out to several WTP consultants by email, hoping that they would oppose closure and publicize his concerns.
Two days later, Dr. Tamosaitis was fired from the WTP project. URS Operations Manager Dennis Hayes personally terminated Tamosaitis. Hayes directed Tamosaitis to return
his badge, cell phone, and Blackberry, and leave the site immediately. Dr. Tamosaitis was reassigned, in a nonsupervisory role, to a basement office in a URS facility off the Hanford site.
Dr. Tamosaitis filed a federal lawsuit for whistleblower retaliation under the Energy Reorganization Act. The case was initially dismissed by District Judge Lonnie Suko, but reinstated by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which made important decisions, including
- That even though Bechtel dismissed Dr. Tamosaitis from the project, under the ERA, URS could be held liable for an employer may be liable for the retaliatory conduct of another entity where the employer either ratifies or acquiesces in the retaliation by not taking immediate and/or corrective actions when it knew or should have known of the conduct; and
- That under the ERA, plaintiffs have a right to jury trial. This was the first decision in the United States finding that ERA plaintiffs get a jury.
Upon remand to the trial court, the case settled for $4.1 million before trial.
See additional details under the “Appeals” and “Trials and Settlements” headings on the Sheridan Law Firm website.