$8.1 million jury verdict and over $1.5 million in attorney fees and costs
In October 2017, a Benton County jury awarded Julie Atwood damages in the amount of $8.1 million against Hanford contractor Mission Support Alliance (MSA) for whistleblower retaliation and discrimination. The jury also found that MSA Vice President and Kennewick Mayor Steve Young aided and abetted in MSA’s wrongful actions. The jury awarded $2.1 million in lost wages, and $6 million in emotional harm damages, which was based on nonmedical and medical testimony.
JULIE ATWOOD FILES RESPONSIVE BRIEF AT COURT OF APPEALS OUTLINING MSA’S MISCONDUCT; DOJ SUES MSA AND ARMIJO FOR DEFRAUDING THE GOVERNMENT
by Jack Sheridan on Friday, February 22nd, 2019
February 11, 2019
Today, Julie Atwood responded to MSA and Steve Young’s opening brief on appeal at Division 3 of the Washington State Court of Appeals. In her brief, Ms. Atwood outlined the mountain of facts supporting the jury’s $8.1 million verdict in October 2018. Ms. Atwood observed that MSA and Young “chose not to appeal any of those meaty issues [that one typically expects to see in a valid appeal of a jury’s verdict when error was committed during the trial], because [those issues] were correctly and thoughtfully decided by the jury and a hard-working, diligent, and intelligent trial judge [the Honorable Douglas Federspiel], whose well-reasoned written rulings make the case iron clad on appeal. What’s left for MSA and Young to appeal are mainly evidentiary objections.”
MSA and Young get to file a reply brief in 30 days and Ms. Atwood has asked that oral argument be expedited. The date of oral argument will be set later this month.
On February 8, 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit against MSA and former CEO Jorge Armijo alleging that MSA and Armijo knowingly made false statements to the Department of Energy about their profits and inflated their rates in violation of the False Claims Act. The lawsuit also alleges that Armijo and other MSA executives were paid more than $1 million by a subcontractor in violation of the Anti-Kickback Act. The U.S. Attorney stated, “Fraud, corruption, and self-dealing at Hanford will simply not be tolerated.”
Jack Sheridan said, “we understand that MSA was seeking to rebid the DOE contract at Hanford. The combination of Ms. Atwood’s jury verdict and the DOJ’s lawsuit may disqualify MSA as a competitive applicant on the rebid, which would demonstrate the importance of the judicial branch in regulating improper behavior by big businesses, and in ensuring that the People’s money is properly and honestly spent to benefit the People.”
MSA And Steve Young Get Extension On Filing Their Brief in Their Appeal of The Julie Atwood $8.1 Million Whistleblower Verdict And The $1.5 Million Attorney Fee Award—MSA Posted $10.5 Million Bond On Order of Court To Cover Interest And Attorney Fees On Appeal
by Jack Sheridan on Saturday, October 27th, 2018
October 9, 2018
Today the Court of Appeals granted MSA’s and Steve Young’s request for an extra sixty-days to file their opening brief in their appeal of Julie Atwood’s $8.1 million verdict against them for retaliation and discrimination. Their notices of appeal take a shotgun approach claiming that virtually every ruling by the trial court was in error. Jack Sheridan said, “a shotgun approach often means that the defendants have no valid appeal; otherwise, they would target one or two real errors. We see no errors in the record and we are looking forward to seeing their brief.”
Every day of delay comes with interest on the verdict and on the attorney fee judgment, which could easily bring the total judgments with interest (and attorney fees on appeal) to over $10 million dollars. To delay Ms. Atwood’s ability to collect the judgment amounts immediately, MSA had to post a bond, which was initially found to be deficient, and was increased to $10,437.862.17 by court order.
Jack said, “now their brief is due just before Christmas, so we will have to ask for an extension ourselves owing to the holidays and another trial I have in January. We are still hoping to have oral argument in the spring of 2019.”
Judge Rejects MSA’s Motion for a New Trial and Awards Attorney Fees and Costs To Julie Atwood
January 10, 2018
Today Julie Atwood won another victory against MSA and Steve Young, when Superior Court Judge Doug Federspiel denied MSA’s motion for a new trial, and awarded attorney fees and costs to Ms. Atwood.
Mission Support Alliance is three-company venture owned by Leidos, Jacobs and Centerra Group. MSA had sought to overturn the $8.1 million jury verdict against MSA entered on October 10, 2017 for gender discrimination, wrongful discharge, and retaliation, which included a verdict against MSA Vice President (and Kennewick mayor) Steve Young for aiding and abetting the discrimination and retaliation.
In a detailed 56-page opinion, Judge Federspiel reviewed and rejected each argument raised by MSA against the verdict. He found that the verdict was supported by substantial evidence presented at trial and that it was not a result of passion or prejudice. He also awarded extra attorney fees and costs finding that “the [extra] attorneys’ fee incurred by her legal team [are being] awarded by this Court due to the risk of loss to the Sheridan firm had the jury returned a defense verdict, the complex nature of the factual issues, the skill of Atwood’s counsel, and the Court’s desire to encourage other attorneys to take cases such as this one. The relevant factors stated are supported by the record.”
Jack said, “Justice was done.” “We are thankful that our trial judge took the time to closely examine the law and the facts, and to bring this case to an end.” He noted that, “rather than treating Julie as required by law, MSA discriminated and retaliated against her, and rather than admitting to what they did, MSA paid Seattle attorneys to defend and deny their actions. “It took years to bring this case to trial. Justice may not always be swift, but justice happens all the same. Julie Atwood is truly vindicated, and MSA and Steve Young have truly been held accountable for their misconduct.”
Jury verdict for plaintiffs of over $4.7 million
Total recovery over
Benton County Case No. 99-2-01250-7. Eleven plaintiff whistleblower case finally brought to trial after extensive delays. Jack called more than 50 witnesses, most of whom where company employees who were hostile to the plaintiffs. Some of the plaintiffs are pipe fitters who had been laid off for refusing to install an underrated valve in a system that would ultimately carry nuclear waste. Other plaintiffs were pipe fitters who were laid off after speaking out in support of the original plaintiffs. The jury awarded over $4.7 million in damages. See jury verdict form. Plaintiffs were awarded an additional $1.5 million in attorney fees. See the attorney fee judgment and the order denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss the case. Also see the Seattle Post Intelligencer coverage.
Recent $1 Million Emotional Harm Whistleblower Jury Verdict
A Thurston County jury awarded Steve Chaussee, a carpenter foreperson working for the ferries, $1,000,000 for emotional harm damages he suffered over a period of about eight years after he was perceived by his management to have blown the whistle on another ferry worker who was leaving work early to coach baseball and charging for a full day.
After the verdict, Jack said,“Steve is very pleased. The State needed to be held accountable. Once they got it in their heads that Steve was the whistleblower they demoted him two levels—from foreperson to journey level—which was unprecedented”, and “This verdict should send a message to state bureaucrats that they will be held accountable for whistleblower retaliation. This verdict makes it cost effective to protect whistleblowers and to fix the problems they report.”
Jury verdict of over $187,000.00
King County Case No. 92-2-05963-1. Disability discrimination case brought under state law. Case was won on Jack’s cross-examination of adverse witnesses.
Whistleblower Win: 4.1 million dollar settlement before trial.
Federal District Court, Eastern District, No. CV-11-5157-LRS. Dr. Tamosaitis agreed to a settlement of his federal retaliation lawsuit against Hanford contractor URS for $4.1 million dollars. The settlement came almost one year before the case was set for a jury trial in federal district court in Richland, WA.
After the settlement, Jack said “We are very pleased that Walter can get on with his life after five years of litigation, and that he has been vindicated. 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.”
Tom Carpenter, Director of Hanford Challenge, a public interest group that helps whistleblowers from Hanford, commented, “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. 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.”
Jury verdict of $1.2 million and attorney fees of $571,000.
In June 2018, in Trussler v. Washington, a King County jury awarded Plaintiff Stacy Trussler, a former Washington State Department Of Transportation Director, $1.2 million in damages and recommended that she be reinstated to a comparable position at WSDOT with protections against further retaliation. Of that verdict, $700,000 was for non-medical emotional harm caused by the State’s wrongful acts.