Ex-Y-12 official contests his firing in court; Human Reliability Program was battleground

A complaint filed in federal court alleges that a former contractor at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant fired a security watchdog in 2013 because of an internal power struggle over the plant’s “Human Reliability Program.”y12overview

According to the complaint, which was filed last fall in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, Michael Doughty was wrongfully fired by B&W Y-12 — the government’s managing contractor at the time — after Doughty reported the contractor’s inappropriate actions on a security event to the federal team overseeing plant operations.

Doughty was the “management official” for the Human Reliability Program, a security and safety program that’s supposed to ensure that employees with access to special nuclear materials and other sensitive areas at Y-12 meet the highest standards for reliability and physical and mental suitability. There are reportedly about 2,000 employees in the program.

Court documents filed on Doughty’s behalf indicate that he became the program’s management official in late 2012 after a number of security lapses — most notably the break-in by an 82-year-old nun and two other peace activists — pointed out “troubling displays of ineptitude” and put the Y-12 contractor “under intense scrutiny.” In that same time frame, the security contractor at Y-12 became part of the managing contractor — B&W Y-12, also known as BWXT.

Although Doughty was employed by BWXT, the complaint said he took direction from the federal oversight team “since BWXT’s own policies and procedures had been found to be inadequate and therefore a change in policy was necessary for the security of the Y-12 National Security Complex.”

The complaint said Doughty had a sound relationship with federal officials, but “an unhealthy relationship began to form between Mr. Doughty and the Contractor Security Management Group, which wanted to control any changes to the program.”

In early 2013, BWXT reportedly notified Doughty that it was going to post a job opening for manager of the Human Reliability Program. Another person was named to that position, but Doughty retained the title of management official for the program and, according to the complaint, he was the only official authorized to remove member of the Human Reliability Program who posed a security concern.

The complaint suggests that the internal conflict came to a head in June 2013 while Doughty was on vacation. During that period, a “security event” occurred when a security police officer at Y-12 allowed a person on the site without a security badge.

The Human Reliability Program manager, who also had been designated the “management official” while Doughty was on vacation, allegedly reported the incident as an “administrative concern” rather than a “security concern.”

That designation allowed BWXT’s Contractor Security Management Group to perform the investigation before informing the federal oversight team of the severity of the problem, the complaint states. When he returned from vacation, Doughty reportedly notified the feds of the situation and the alleged violation of federal rules.

As a result, “tensions continued to escalate” between Doughty and the BWXT group. Shortly thereafter, when a key federal official involved in security oversight decided to retire, “The Contractor Security Management Group took this opportunity to seize control of the Human Reliability Program,” the complaint states.

A month later, Doughty was reportedly placed on administrative leave and later fired for reasons that, according to the complaint, had nothing to do with the real cause.

The complaint claims that Doughty was fired as retaliation for reporting the contractor’s violations to Y-12’s federal oversight team and that his actions were protected under the Energy Reorganization Act.

Doughty is seeking back pay, plus other compensation.

In a response filed with court documents, BWXT responds to the complaint point by point and denies most of the allegations.

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.