In 1977 Ed Bricker went to work at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, a federal facility in Washington State that processes plutonium for nuclear weapons for
the Department of Energy(DOE).
In 1987, Westinghouse Electric Corporation took over the government contracts at Hanford. Later that year, Ed Bricker reported that he thought were safety deficiencies that could have exposed workers directly to plutonium.
Bricker said it began when he noticed that alarms in his work area had been shut off because they were malfunctioning. As a result workers could be exposed to unsafe levels of radiation and not be aware of the contamination. Bricker then observed leaks with the "hood windows," through which workers observed plutonium processing and used insulated gloves to reach into sealed processing areas.
Brickers safety concerns continued when he realized that the original schematic drawings of the plant had not been updated in over 30 years Since then the layout of the plant had changed numerous times. As a result there were no accurate maps of safe and unsafe areas of the plant.
Then one day Bricker walked into the plant control room and found no plant operator at the controls. The only person in the room was an engineer who was not trained in emergency procedures. It was then he said he knew he had to act.
Bricker took his safety concerns up the chain of command to various levels of management. He got nowhere. Finally he took his complaints to The Seattle Times, Then, he says, "is when the campaign of harassment began."
"I was called a nitpicker and a troublemaker. I was called a government mole.' I was told that if I didn't stop complaining, the facility would be shut down and everyone would lose their jobs. I began to receive poor work performances. I was threatened. Petitions were circulated with managements active involvement stating that I had mental health problems."
"Then one day my air equipment was sabotaged that allowed me to go safely into contaminated areas. I held my breath and ran out of the facility and passed out."
Bricker filed a formal complaint with the Department of labor, stating he was being harassed on the job because he had engaged in legally protected whistle blowing activities.
After an investigation, the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) concluded that RockwellHanford had retaliated against Bricker for making the complaints, but that Westinghouse seemed to have attempted to correct the problem after taking over.
But Bricker says the intimidation continued unabated.
Finally, after suffering years of abuse, Bricker quit. Fittingly, he now is a state regulator overseeing some of Hanford's health and safety practices.
In August 1990, Bricker filed a lawsuit in Federal district court against both
Rockwell and Westinghouse, accusing the companies of harassment. Despite the
OSHA finding in his favor, Rockwell and Westinghouse, with the support of the
DOE, denied the charges.
The DOE paid more than $1 million in taxpayer dollars for legal fees and expenses to fight Bricker's claim. Even more outstanding is the fact that Bricker offered to settle the case for a mere $65,000.
In 1991, Hanford lawyers convinced the federal trial judge that Hanford employees, who worked for a private company rather than the government, had no right under federal law to recover damages for whistleblower harassment. Because all of Bricker's other claims arose under state law, the federal judge ruled that he had no jurisdiction to hear the case.
Two years later, the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed that decision, and in October 1994 the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the lower court rulings. Bricker would have to start all over again.
The DOE approved the settlement of these remaining state law claims against Rockwell and Westinghouse in December 1994 Bricker got $200,000.
Meanwhile, the government had spent more than $1 million in lawyers fees.