URS Corp. and its unit, Washington River Protection Solutions, have until Sept. 19 to address the U.S. Labor Dept's ruling of “reasonable cause” to believe the firms violated federal whistle-blower rules by wrongfully terminating an employee at the Hanford federal nuclear-waste cleanup site in Washington state who had filed a whistle-blower complaint.

The agency on Aug. 19 said WRPS must rehire Shelly Doss, who was laid off in 2011 as an environmental specialist, and pay $220,000 in back wages and damages.

In a statement, WRPS says it is reviewing the DOL order and has not decided whether to request a hearing.

The firm claims Doss was one of more than 200 employees URS laid off “to align its employment levels with ... federal funding” and that her “raising of safety or environmental questions was not a factor” in that action.

“The decision for Shelly sends a clear signal that contractor problems exist” at federal cleanup sites, Walter Tamosaitis, another laid-off URS whistle-blower at Hanford, told ENR on Aug. 26. "Impacting a contractor at one site hopefully will have broader impact due to the multisite involvement" of contractors in U.S. Energy Dept. cleanup activity, he adds.

Tamosaitis said he is awaiting rulings in federal court in California and in Washington state court involving his own layoff and whistle-blower litigation against URS, Bechtel and the U.S. Energy Dept.

Tom Carpenter, executive director of environmental activist group Hanford Challenge who says he is Doss’s attorney, said she "properly reported and documented numerous environmental violations in a professional manner, and suggested ways to resolve those issues. Instead of praising her, WRPS management vilified her, ruined her career, and illegally fired her from her position."

WRPS said in its statement that "each employee is empowered and encouraged to raise safety or other workplace concerns."

A subcommittee of the Senate Security and Government Affairs Committee held hearings last spring related to the "safety culture" at Hanford's waste vitrification plant site and issues of whistleblower retaliation, with officials from DOE, Bechtel and URS testifying.