OAKLAND -- In a lawsuit that claims they were unfairly targeted due to age, salaries and other issues, 130 former Lawrence Livermore Lab workers are seeking restitution for the loss of their jobs and incomes.
After a weeklong hiatus, jurors on Monday heard from lawyers on both sides of a trial involving 130 former workers who are suing lab management claiming wrongful termination and breach of contract.
The ex-employees filed suit against Lawrence Livermore National Security -- headed by Bechtel Corp. and the University of California -- in May 2009, a year after a mass layoff of 430 lab workers.
The trial began March 11 in Alameda County Superior Court for the first five of the 130 plaintiffs -- James Torrice, Marian Barraza, Elaine Andrews, Mario Jimenez, and Greg Olsen -- who allege breach of contract and other complaints. Andrews has a separate claim for retaliation.
On Monday, after hearing testimony from former employee Olsen, jurors listened to presentations from lawyers for both sides, who summarized all the evidence in the case so far. The trial for the first group of plaintiffs is expected to continue through April.
Gary Gwilliam, attorney for the plaintiffs, summarized his case with an overview of earlier testimony by two of the employees and members of the lab's layoff review committee, stating that the employees chosen were picked for layoff ahead of others with less seniority, violating terms in their contracts.
"We established that all of these employees had contracts with the lab that needed to be followed," he said. "We established that the layoff review committee did not have good notes and didn't follow procedure."
Seniority rules weren't followed, Gwilliam said. He pointed to the case of ex-employee Marian Barraza. "She had 38 years of experience and they let her go with someone with 1.3 years of experience right behind her" to take her job, he said.
Attorney Patricia Gillette, representing Lawrence Livermore National Security, argued that layoffs were carried out exactly as ordered by the Department of Energy, and that the positions eliminated were no longer necessary to fulfill the lab's directives as it transitioned away from nuclear weapons research.
"The mission of the lab is tied to how the lab did its layoff," Gillette said. "It has to attract and retain the very best scientists in the country."
Gillette said the DOE had identified target staff reductions in every department, asking the lab to consider "flex" employees and voluntary workforce reductions before any layoffs of career staff.
"We believe what you'll find is that each of these managers made the decisions with honest beliefs to retain the mission of the lab," Gillette said.
Trial testimony will continue tomorrow with Bechtel manager Frank Russo.
The 130 workers combined in the suit -- who include senior staff. engineers, scientists, maintenance workers and administrative assistants -- are seeking individual damages on a number of allegations, including discrimination, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and breach of contract.
In October, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman ruled the lawsuit could proceed to trial, finding sufficient evidence that the layoffs disproportionately affected workers over the age of 40. The average age of the plaintiffs is 54, according to their lawyers.
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.