Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer
Some Los Alamos National Laboratory workers are upset over who received payments as part of a $12 million settlement in a class action lawsuit against the lab's former manager.
The federal lawsuit against the University of California — which was settled last year — alleged pay and promotion disparities stemming from years of gender and racial discrimination at the lab.
But critics say that among the claimants receiving payouts are well-paid mid- and high-level lab managers.
“These are not the people who are salary-deprived at the lab ... and yet they had the audacity to partake in this hard-won victory for those lab workers who deserved vindication,” said longtime lab employee Charles “Chuck” Montaño, who helped bring the pay disparities to light. “Instead of vindication, they've been slapped across the face by those individuals in management who couldn't suppress their greed at least this once.”
Montaño is also upset that at least two lab attorneys have also received payouts. Montaño said it was conflict of interest for the attorneys — who previously worked for UC and now represent Los Alamos National Security, the lab's new manager — to receive part of the settlement.
Montaño, who says he received $3,800 as part of the settlement, said he wished there had been stricter guidelines concerning who could file claims.
John Bienvenu, one of the attorneys representing the class representatives, defended the payments.
“Certainly the payments were made to all levels of the class” because female and Hispanics across the board were discriminated against, Bienvenu said. The attorney said a statistician and a labor economist determined how much each employee should receive by calculating what their salary would have been if they were not discriminated against.
UC spokesman Chris Harrington said in a statement that the “class” in the class action case included all female and Hispanic employees.
“The decision of whether or not to participate in the class action was a personal one made by each individual class member,” Harrington said. “The laboratory took no action to influence the decision of any employee regarding whether to participate in the class action, as that was a personal choice and legal right.”
Harrington said all eligible employees, including managers and attorneys, were free to make their own decisions as to whether to participate in the settlement.
The settlement stems from two discrimination lawsuits filed against the lab in 2003 and 2004 that were merged into a single class-action case.
Individual payments were based on a number of factors, including a formula outlined in the agreement and the number of people who file claims.
Settlement payouts have been a bone of contention before in the case. Last year, lab employee Laurie Quon appealed the settlement, arguing that women who originally initiated the lawsuit would receive excessive payouts.