Jan 10, 2009
A former Los Alamos National Laboratory nuclear weapons researcher has filed a lawsuit alleging he was fired because of his Iranian descent.
Behzad Salimi, who worked at the lab for more than 20 years, is seeking damages and reinstatement to his job.
"It's been devastating," Salimi's attorney, Todd Wertheim, said Friday of his client's feelings about the dismissal. "This is a person who dedicated his entire adult life to the security of the United States."
The suit names as the defendant Los Alamos National Security, the for-profit contractor that runs the nuclear weapons lab.
"We believe the actions management took in this matter were fully justified," LANS spokesman Kevin Roark said in a statement. "It would be inappropriate to comment further as the lawsuit addresses a personnel action and the matter is pending in court."
Salimi worked with classified and sensitive material throughout much of his career at the lab, including as a nuclear weapons designer and foreign nuclear weapons analyst, according to the suit.
The lawsuit states that in April 2006, Salimi was transferred from the N division, where he worked as an intelligence officer, to the X division, which does weapons design work.
During the move to the new office, Salimi found himself in a "maelstrom of hyperbolic accusations against him that he had violated security rules," leading to his firing in March 2007, according to the complaint.
"LANS terminated Dr. Salimi despite his qualifications and his rare knowledge and experience for his position," the suit states.
The complaint does not detail the lab's given reason for Salimi's dismissal. But as evidence for the alleged discrimination, the suit states two other non-Iranian employees mishandled classified material but were not fired by LANS.
"The circumstances surrounding Dr. Salimi's termination give rise to an inference of discrimination based in national origin and ancestry," the complaint filed last month in federal court states.
Salimi also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in August 2007 charging national origin and gender discrimination. The gender discrimination allegation is not part of the lawsuit.
Wertheim said his client was born in Iran before immigrating to the United States with his parents as a boy. He earned a doctorate in nuclear engineering from the University of Illinois.
The suit alleges Salimi has suffered embarrassment, as well as damage to his professional reputation and ability to earn a living as a weapons physicist or national security adviser.