Enercon Services Inc. must pay $261,152.69 in back wages, compensatory damages and interest, plus attorney’s fees, to a senior engineer following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), that found the company violated the whistle-blower provisions of the Energy Reorganization Act (ERA).
An investigation conducted by OSHA staff in Kansas City, MO., found Enercon wrongfully terminated a senior engineer for raising safety concerns during construction projects Enercon Services was part of at the Wolf Creek Generating Station, a licensee of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, located in Burlington.
“Professionals who work in the nuclear power industry have a right and a responsibility to express their professional opinion and report safety-related concerns,” said Marcia Drumm, acting regional administrator for OSHA in Kansas City. “The department’s responsibility is to protect all employees from retaliation for exercising basic worker rights. The ERA protects the workers who, in turn, protect the public.”
OSHA’s investigation concluded the licensed professional civil and structural engineer ended up terminated Jan. 30, 2012, for reporting breaches of minimum soil coverage requirements for emergency service water piping and for refusing to provide Enercon Services an engineering justification for the use of concrete as backfill over the piping.
The breaches occurred when workers dug a trench to bury a grounding cable for a new security fence constructed for the emergency service water pump house at Wolf Creek. The trench encroached on the minimum soil coverage requirement for the pipes, necessitating a backfill to bring the plant back in compliance. The evidence shows that a manager for Enercon Services proposed to backfill the pipes with concrete before the arrival of NRC inspectors, but the engineer refused to implement the design change because he believed concrete fill was insufficient. The engineer ended up fired a few days later. Wolf Creek ultimately used cohesive soil as backfill over the pipes.
The agency has ordered Enercon Services to reinstate the engineer to his former position with all pay, benefits and rights and pay back wages of $206,360, plus interest currently estimated at $4,142.69, compensatory damages of $50,650 and reasonable attorney fees. The ERA does not provide for an award of punitive damages.
Enercon Services Inc. provides engineering support services to nuclear facilities nationwide. Its headquarters are in Kennesaw, Ga.