Were Whistleblowers Fired for Pointing Out Safety Problems at National Lab?

Les Miklosy and Luciana Messina say they were retaliated against and wrongfully terminated for expressing safety concerns regarding Lawrence Livermore National Lab's National Ignition Facility (NIF) project, and they're asking the Alameda County (California) Superior Court to decide.

Management of the laboratory, however, claims Miklosy was fired for performance reasons and Messina quit.

The NIF project is a multi-billion dollar project where the lab is attempting to fire 192 laser beams in a large target chamber at a pellet of nuclear material. It is the largest project at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab.

Miklosy was hired as a computer scientist to work on the NIF's target chamber software. After working there for approximately a year, Miklosy claims he became concerned that there were serious potential safety problems in the target chamber and that the entire project was being run in a non-scientific manner. He was also critical of the lack of accountability of his managers working on the project. When he tried to meet with his manager to discuss his concerns, he says he was fired on Feb. 28, 2003.

"The NIF project is a death march," claims Miklosy. "There are serious potential safety risks and real operational control issues in the nuclear facility that are not being addressed. My protected disclosures about accounting and engineering procedural issues were never addressed. In fact, the issues I raised were ignored and covered up."

Messina joined the Lawrence Livermore Lab in November 2001 and worked with Miklosy on identifying problems in the NIF target chamber. After Miklosy was terminated, she claims she became concerned about her ability to retain her engineering integrity in such circumstances. She said that when she learned her managers also intended to fire her, she resigned from the lab. She also alleges that there were serious problems within the NIF project.

"Once again, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has fired employees who complained about safety issues and financial waste at the lab," said attorney J. Gary Gwilliam, who along with Jan Nielsen of Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer filed the lawsuit on behalf of Miklosy and Messina. Adding it was the fourth lawsuit his firm has filed against the lab for retaliation and wrongful termination, he added, "It is high time that someone took a close look at how the lab treats their employees."

In a statement, the laboratory said the statements made by Gwilliam and Miklosy do not represent "an accurate account of either the NIF project and its current status, or those individuals' employment circumstances."

According to the lab, Miklosy was a flex-term employee who was fired for performance reasons. "His performance deficiencies were noted well before he raised any issues regarding NIF," said the statement. Messina, who the lab called "a personal friend and business partner" of Miklosy, resigned "voluntarily" the day Miklosy was terminated and was asked to return to work, according to the statement.

The laboratory claims its internal investigation of Miklosy's concerns "concluded that his allegations were not valid and that the NIF project was adhering to appropriate standards." Independently, the Department of Energy and the Inspector General's office reviewed Miklosy's claims and concluded there was no merit.

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