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Was Washington Whistleblower’s Layoff Retaliation?

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Hanford, WAA Washington state man who maintained a 44-year career with URS Corp. was one of five employees laid off from the firm due to apparent budgetary constraints. However, Walter Tamosaitis wonders if the loss of his job after so many years reaches back to previous concerns he raised with his former employer over safety and design issues at the plant where he was based. Was his layoff retaliation, and thus an affront to Washington State Employment Laws?

According to the Tri-City Herald (10/4/13), Tamosaitis had been serving as a research and technology manager for URS Corp’s vitrification plant located in Hanford. However, he was removed from his position in 2010 not long after Tamosaitis had alerted the Defense Nuclear Facilities Board about certain issues he had over design and safety, and his belief that concerns he had raised previously with his employers had been suppressed.

According to the Tri-City Herald, Tamosaitis believes he was dismissed from his management position due to his persistent protests over systems safety and design. URS, and its primary subcontractor Bechtel National, counter that Tamosaitis’ work was winding down, and he was dismissed from his management position for composing an e-mail deemed to be disrespectful, or so it was alleged.

He remained an employee, however, toiling as part of a large workgroup, but was no longer assigned to serve as lead on projects. However, Tamosaitis appears to have launched Washington Employment lawsuits against URS, Bechtel and the federal Department of Energy that were later dismissed before they had a chance to go to trial. Those dismissals are under appeal.

That could prove a Washington Employment problem for Tamosaitis. The Tri-City Herald reports he can’t collect his severance without first signing documentation that releases URS from liability, Tamosaitis said in comments published in the Tri-City Herald. It is assumed that to collect his severance, required under Washington State Labor Law and amounting to 26 weeks of pay, Tamosaitis would have to drop his appeals.

There appears to have been some merit in Tamosaitis’ concerns about the vitrification plant. The Tri-City Herald reported that former Secretary of Energy Steven Chu halted construction on key portions of the plant over technical issues. According to the report, work remains unfinished on portions of the High Level Waste Facility and the Pretreatment facility at the plant in question. The same week that Tamosaitis was laid off from his job, an audit from the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Energy revealed that in the view of inspectors assigned to the facility, officials at the Hanford, Washington plant had failed to follow procedures in order to verify that changes to the design of the vitrification plant equipment could be deemed safe once the plant commenced operations.

URS released a statement indicating there would be no comment forthcoming on “specific matters,” but that the enterprise had found it necessary to reduce its employment levels due to budgetary constraints. “URS encourages its employees to raise any concerns about safety, which remains the company’s highest priority,” the statement said, as published in the Tri-City Herald.

Washington Employment Law carries a basket of tenets designed to protect workers and uphold Washington employee rights. Tamosaitis was given no further projects to lead following dismissal from his management position, and remained part of a workgroup totaling more than 100 members. Of the 130 members in his workgroup considered for layoffs, just five were targeted, according to the report. Tamosaitis was one of those five, and the only worker located at the URS facility at Richland to be let go, after a total of 44 years with the company.

Under provisions of Washington State Labor Law and federal statutes, Tamosaitis is due fair severance pay. However, it appears he cannot collect until the appeals process works its way through the pipeline, or until he is prepared to drop those legal appeals.

According to the Washington Employment Law report, Tamosaitis has no regrets. “I wholeheartedly believe I did the right thing,” he told the Tri-City Herald.

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