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Jury awards $8.1 million to Hanford ex-manager for retaliation

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RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) - A former manager at Hanford Nuclear Reservation was awarded $8.1 million after a jury ruled in her lawsuit that she had faced retaliation and discrimination on the job.

The Benton County jury made the award Tuesday to Julie Atwood, who resigned in 2013 from Mission Support Alliance, a contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Tri-City Herald reported the ruling against the contractor and one of its vice presidents, Steve Young, who also is the mayor of Kennewick.

Young and Mission Support Alliance did not comment on the verdict.

The jury found that Mission Support Alliance retaliated and discriminated against Atwood, and Young aided and abetted the actions.

The verdict includes $2.1 million in lost wages and benefits. The remaining $6 million is for emotional harm.

The jury reached the verdict after deliberating less than a day, following nearly three weeks of testimony.

Hanford for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons. Mission Support Alliance is involved in the massive cleanup of nuclear waste on the sprawling site.

Denise Ashbaugh, an attorney for the contractor and Young, argued during the trial that the company had good reason to get rid of Atwood.

Atwood was accused of creating a hostile work environment, abusing her relationship with an influential Energy Department official and timecard fraud.

"She simply did not perform her job very well," Ashbaugh said.

But Jack Sheridan, an attorney for Atwood, said if those accusations were true, his client should have been fired or disciplined sooner.

Atwood told investigators in 2013 that Young was conducting city business during hours he was supposed to be working for the Hanford contractor and was being paid with taxpayer money.

Three days later Atwood was told she would be fired. She resigned in an attempt to protect her reputation and pension, Sheridan said.

Atwood developed a mental illness similar to post traumatic stress disorder and has not worked since, Sheridan said.

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