U.S. Water News Online
YAKIMA, Wash. — The Washington state Supreme Court upheld a $4.8 million verdict in favor of 11 pipefitters who claimed they were fired for raising safety concerns at the Hanford nuclear reservation.
The workers filed suit nine years ago against Fluor Federal Services, of Richland, a contractor at the south-central Washington nuclear site. They claimed they were laid off after objecting when they were told to install a valve they believed was inadequate.
A Benton County Superior Court jury awarded them damages in 2005. Fluor Federal Services, part of Irving, Texas-based Fluor Corp., appealed, in part arguing that the damage awards were excessive.
The court rejected that argument saying, “The awards in question were supported by the evidence.”
The Hanford site was created as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb. Today, it is the nation's most contaminated nuclear site.
The event in question occurred at Hanford's tank farms, where underground tanks hold some 53 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous waste left from Cold War-era nuclear weapons production. Some of the 177 aging tanks are known to have leaked, threatening groundwater and the Columbia River less than 10 miles away and making cleanup a priority.
In 1997, a crew of seven pipefitters objected when they were told to install a valve rated for 1,975 pounds per square inch for a test of radioactive waste pipes that would need to withstand 2,235 pounds per square inch.
The crew was later laid off, but a settlement was reached that required Fluor Federal Services to rehire them.
The plaintiffs contend that foremen on the job were told they would have to lay off seven other pipefitters to bring the first seven back. The lawsuit was filed by five of the original seven, plus six of those who were subsequently laid off.
Fluor Federal Services argued that there simply was not enough work at the Hanford site for all the pipefitters.
Damages awarded by the Superior Court jury in Richland ranged from $89,700 for one plaintiff to more than $553,000 for another.
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