OAKLAND -- The private-public partnership that operates Lawrence Livermore Laboratory should pay five former employees at least $6 million for illegally laying them off during a more than 400 employee reduction action four years ago, an attorney argued in court Tuesday.

Couching a lawsuit filed by the former employees as a battle between local community values and heartless corporate actions, attorney Gary Gwilliam urged a jury to send a message against corporate greed.

"This finding is about what the community accepts," Gwilliam said. "Don't let them walk in here and trample on people like they did."

Lawrence Livermore Laboratory with the southeast corner in the foreground
Lawrence Livermore Laboratory with the southeast corner in the foreground (Staff file)

Gwilliam was making a closing argument in the first of what promises to be many wrongful termination cases against Lawrence Livermore National Security, a public-private partnership headed by the Bechtel Corp. and the University of California.

The lawsuit stems from a May 2009 action during which 430 employees of the laboratory were laid off as the lab dealt with a national recession and a change of focus away from nuclear weapons development.

While laboratory executives have argued that the layoffs were done to position the organization for the future and retain employees with the skills needed, 130 employees who lost their jobs in 2009 argued otherwise and said the layoffs were done to rid the company of higher-paid senior employees.


Advertisement

In an effort to keep the case manageable, an Alameda Superior Court judge ruled earlier that employees' cases would be split up. On Tuesday, the first five employees to have their trial before a jury -- James Torrice, 60; Marian Barraza, 61; Elaine Andrews, 66; Mario Jimenez, 57; and Greg Olsen, 63 -- watched closing arguments.

The employees claim Lawrence Livermore National Security breached a contract and wrongfully terminated them because of their age.

In making their argument, the employees pointed out that the average age of the 130 people laid off was 54 and that other employees with less seniority kept their jobs.

Gwilliam said the five employees should be paid more than $3 million for lost and future wages and that Andrews should receive an additional $3 million because she was fired, he argued, after filing a sexual harassment lawsuit against the lab years before the layoffs.

But an attorney representing Lawrence Livermore National Security said there was never a guarantee that employees would be laid off in reverse order of seniority. And the attorney insisted those who were laid off lost their jobs because¿ their skills were no longer needed.

"No one took any pleasure in laying off people; it was a terrible day for everyone," said Patrica Gillette, the attorney representing the lab. "In order to insure the future of the lab, they had to have the right mix of people going forward."

Closing arguments continue Wednesday.