As reported by The San Francisco Chronicle (5/14/13), a spate of layoffs at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2008 was blamed on a reduction in federal funding to the nuclear facility. No fewer than 440 employees were shown the door. However, plaintiffs note that layoffs - the first at the facility in nearly four decades - occurred following the arrival of Bechtel Corp., a contractor that entered into a public-private partnership with the University of California. Bechtel is described in the report as the facility’s first private contractor.
Plaintiffs in the California wrongful employment termination case allege that Lawrence Livermore violated policies designed to protect more tenured staff. According to attorneys familiar with the case, the average age and experience levels of the 130 plaintiffs involved in the action were 54 years and 20 years, respectively.
In one case, according to a plaintiff attorney, a lab worker with 38 years of experience was pink slipped, while a co-worker with just 15 months on the job was retained. The affected employees cite age discrimination and California wrongful employee termination.
Five of the 130 plaintiffs launched a wrongful termination lawsuit, alleging that their jobs should have been protected by way of a contractual agreement restricting termination to “reasonable cause.” Last month a jury in Alameda County awarded the five senior workers in excess of $2.7 million in California wrongful termination damages. According to the report, individual amounts ranged from $242,000 to $853,000 and represented lost wages following the 2008 layoffs.
Those same five plaintiffs will now pursue the second phase of a multi-tiered lawsuit undertaken by their California wrongful termination attorneys for age discrimination, and the pursuit of additional damages for emotional distress and punitive damages. Another collection of plaintiffs, numbering 125, await their own trials based on similar allegations.
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Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory issued a statement indicating managers at the facility had followed federal Department of Energy guidelines when undertaking the layoffs, and denied targeting higher-paid, senior employees to be California terminated. Spokeswoman Lynda Seaver went on to say that Lawrence Livermore disagrees with the juror’s findings and is considering its options. “The laboratory believes it acted in good faith,” she said in a statement dated May 13.
California wrongful termination law spells out the criteria by which employers can legally terminate an employee. Many employers run afoul of those guidelines.