Originally created 11/28/01

53 of 96 lawsuits settled



AIKEN - Four Savannah River Site contractors have settled more than half of the 96 racial-discrimination lawsuits filed against them, their attorneys said Tuesday.

Forty-three cases remain, said Deborah Sudbury, an attorney for the contractors, during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Aiken.

The companies continue to work to settle those cases, said Will Callicott, a spokesman for the federal nuclear-weapons site's lead contractor, Westinghouse Savannah River Co.

Westinghouse admitted no wrongdoing in the settled cases, Mr. Callicott said. He would not disclose how much money had been paid in settlements.

The U.S. Department of Energy will reimburse the companies for any settlements and legal fees associated with the cases, Mr. Callicott said. Legal fees have stretched "well into the millions," he said, but he did not provide an exact amount.

The cases stem from a 1997 lawsuit filed by 10 black SRS employees against Westinghouse and subcontractors Bechtel Savannah River Inc., BWXT Savannah River Co. and British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. Savannah River Corp.

Less than six months later, 89 more employees joined the suit.

The plaintiffs alleged that the contractors discriminated against black employees in awarding pay raises and promotions. They also alleged that black employees were assigned disproportionately to jobs that could expose them to radiation hazards.

The employees initially sought a class-action lawsuit representing all current and former black employees of the companies, but U.S. District Court Judge Cameron M. Currie denied class-action status.

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409 or bhaddock@augustachronicle.com.

A hearing will continue today in U.S. District Court in Aiken on the remaining lawsuits. Judge Cameron M. Currie will decide whether expert testimony will be admissible as evidence.