Originally created 12/02/99

'60 Minutes' reporter researching SRS



A racial-discrimination lawsuit against some Savannah River Site contractors has attracted the attention of 60 Minutes.

Mike Wallace, a correspondent for the CBS television program, was spotted in an Aiken eatery Wednesday. A plaintiff in the lawsuit confirmed the journalist was researching the suit filed against four contractors at the federal nuclear-weapons site.

The suit, filed in October 1997 by 10 employees, names as defendants SRS contractor Westinghouse Savannah River Co. and subcontractors Bechtel Savannah River Inc., Babcock & Wilcox Savannah River Co. and British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. Savannah River Corp.

About 80 employees added their names to the suit in March. The suit accuses the contractors of discriminating against black employees in awarding pay raises and promotions, and assigning more often to black employees jobs that could expose them to radiation hazards.

The lawsuit seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and changes in how the contractors promote employees and grant pay raises.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status that would allow the plaintiffs to represent the interests of all black employees of the companies.

Westinghouse has until Jan. 15 to file motions concerning the request for class-action status, company spokesman Will Callicott said. The suit is in the "discovery" stage where attorneys for both sides reveal evidence and witnesses they might use during trial.

The discovery process will last through the end of the month, Mr. Callicott said.

"We and the other side continue to talk to each other," he said. "That's about all I can say."

Westinghouse has not been contacted by 60 Minutes for interviews, Mr. Callicott said. When approached Wednesday by a reporter for The Augusta Chronicle, Mr. Wallace would not divulge why he was in Aiken.

A 60 Minutes spokesman said he could not comment about why the journalist was in town, saying it was against CBS News policy to talk about possible or upcoming stories.

60 Minutes does not necessarily air every segment it researches, the spokesman said.

Westinghouse Electric Corp., then the parent company of Westinghouse Savannah River, purchased CBS in 1995. Westinghouse Savannah River and CBS were part of the same corporate entity until March, when Westinghouse's industrial and government-services divisions were sold for $1.1 billion to a partnership formed by Morrison Knudsen and British Nuclear Fuels Ltd.

60 Minutes last aired a segment concerning SRS in 1993 in a report about spending at federal nuclear-weapons sites.

Staff Writer Pat Willis contributed to this article.

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409.