Whistleblower’s Book Explains Discrimination/Ethics Violations
Dennis Patterson’s career at the Idaho National Laboratory spanned three decades, and now he’s written a book documenting what he calls “discrimination and ethics violations” at the site.
During his tenure as the ethics officer at the site, Patterson was employed by EG&G Idaho in the 1980s, and Lockheed Martin and Bechtel in the 1990s.
He said the job was both personally and professionally rewarding.
But Patterson said the atmosphere at the INL changed dramatically when Battelle Energy Alliance merged with Argonne National Laboratory and took over operations in 2005.
In his book, “Whistleblower: Justice over Discrimination and Ethics Violations,” published in May, Patterson outlines the decline of worker safety and rights at the Department of Energy facility under BEA management.
Patterson said as the ethics officer, he addressed workers’ concerns and complaints on a confidential basis. And in that capacity, direct access to the laboratory director was crucial. But when BEA took over, that access was denied.
The situation began to immediately deteriorate when a black union construction worker who had been dismissed and escorted off the premises contacted Patterson. Patterson said he learned that employee relations and worker rights appeared not to be on BEA’s list of high priorities.
“(The worker) was confused,” Patterson said. “He had been there for eight years, there had been no problem and they wouldn’t tell him why he was terminated.”
The worker was familiar to Patterson, who said the man had previously been on probation, and Lockheed Martin officials had advised him to come back when he was released. He did, was hired and continued to work at the site seasonally for almost a decade before being fired by BEA.
Patterson followed up the case and said BEA officials refused to provide information relevant to the worker’s dismissal.
“Never before had I not been able to receive the information I needed,” Patterson said. “Now I’m the bad guy.”
He believes discrimination was a factor in the treatment of the worker’s termination.
“It seemed that the attitude was that the guy just hadn’t been caught yet, or that he was manipulating the system,” Patterson said. “Ultimately, they told me it was not necessary to tell the guy why he was terminated.”
After almost four months of battling the security and legal organizations Patterson was able to prove that the construction worker had not received due process and his termination was unfair. He was able to return to work.
But, Patterson said by then, he had become the target of unfair treatment. During the next appraisal cycle his performance was downgraded and his management title removed.
In 2006, Patterson filed a whistleblower’s case with the Department of Energy alleging that he had been retaliated against on multiple occasions.
In April of 2007, Patterson said BEA management directed him to disclose the name of an employee who reported confidentially. Patterson refused and the company retaliated by transferring him from the ethics office to an engineering group.
In November of 2007 a hearing was held in Idaho Falls and for the first time ever, a former president of a DOE lab, John Denson, INL president from 1994 to 1999, testified on behalf of a whistleblower.
In June 2008, the department ruled in Patterson’s favor and BEA appealed the decision.
But in March of 2009, the DOE denied the appeal and recommended that Patterson be reinstated in the Ethics Office. BEA refused and Patterson was then given a job developing training programs for managers at the INL.
Patterson continued in this position until being terminated in March 2013 as part of a workforce reduction.
BEA realigned the Ethic Office so it now reports to the general counsel at the site.
Patterson contends that the DOE was complicit with BEA and that the whistleblower system at the INL is broken.
“Confidentiality is critical for people to feel safe reporting without retaliation,” Patterson said. “If employees can’t report concerns confidentially, it creates a chilling effect on the workforce.”
The book includes accounts of multiple regulatory violations by BEA, including the exposure of 16 employees to plutonium and an incident in 2011 that lead to a nuclear test reactor losing half of the water used for cooling and protection.
The DOE fined BEA following the lost coolant incident, but the media was not informed of the near crisis until more than seven months after it occurred.
The book also profiles the case of Ralph Stanton, another DOE/INL whistleblower who received an internal dose of plutonium. Stanton was terminated by BEA in 2013.
Patterson said he and Stanton have become good friends.
“He’s still not sure what the future holds for him,” Patterson said.
BEA currently has a substantial management role at seven national laboratories, six for the DOE and one for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Spokeswoman Amy Leintz said last week that the company has no comment regarding Patterson’s book.
“We haven’t bought the book and we don’t intend to,” Leintz said.
Earlier this month, BEA announced that John Grossenbacher, director at the INL since 2005, will step down by Sept. 30, 2015.
The book marks the first time that a DOE whistleblower has published a book, but Patterson said he thought the story was important. It’s his hope that documenting this part of INL’s history will lead to a better laboratory.
“I had a great career. I wish I hadn’t have had to go through this, but I did the right thing for the right reason,” Patterson said. “Things have to change. The safety of the workers and the public is at stake. I’m afraid if it doesn’t change, someone will get killed.”
Patterson is a native of Idaho Falls and an Idaho State University alumni. He is the founding president of the Idaho Falls African American Alliance, a local nonprofit dedicated to promoting diversity and improving understanding amongst all peoples.
Article By: Debbie Bryce, Visit: www.IdahoStateJournal.com