San Onofre whistleblower claims termination was retaliatory

A manager at the San Onofre nuclear power plant says he was fired for raising safety concerns at the plant, and he's filed a lawsuit for back pay and whistleblower damages. KUSI's Steve Bosh reports on the latest details.

Paul Diaz had a clean record at the plant for 9 years before he left voluntarily in 2008. He was lured back with a promotion to a manager's position early last year.  After 9 months he was fired.

This lawsuit is about worker safety conditions at the plant. It has nothing to do with the nuclear reactors or the safety of the general public. It has everything to do with the workers being allowed to speak freely about working conditions at the plant site.

“In March of 2010 the nuclear regulatory commission issued a letter finding that there was a chilling effect on employees raising safety issues at the plant,” said Maria Severson, attorney for Diaz.

Workers took their complaints to section managers and were told to not raise concerns outside their work group. So they went to the plant's business manager, Paul Diaz.

“I took those concerns and raised them up to my management and at that time I was told to not address those concerns, and the exact words were 'they don't need you to be their superhero,'” said Diaz.

So Diaz decided to relay those concerns to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the NRC, whose policy states that all nuclear plants must allow workers to speak freely about safety concerns.

“When he went to the NRC and raised these issues with the NRC, Mr. Diaz was terminated,” said Chris Morris, attorney for Diaz.
   
The plant has a history, documented by the NRC, about the chilling effect of the work environment at San Onofre.

Complaints are 10 times the industry average and the NRC noted that for 5 consecutive assessments at the plant corrective actions were ineffectual.

“It is true over the last several years that the NRC has brought to our attention specific ways we can improve that aspect of the plant,” said Gil Alexander, San Onofre spokesperson.

Alexander says San Onofre has taken steps to address these concerns, and now allows complaints to be submitted anonymously.     

But he would not talk about the reason Mr. Diaz was terminated.

In August of last year Mr. Diaz sent the workers' complaints to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In late September he went on vacation. When he returned in early October he was fired.

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