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Trial Set for Gender Discrimination Class Action Against National Security Lab

Thousands of Female Employees Seek Fair Pay and Promotions at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

In the wake of recent revelations of procurement fraud at its Los Alamos weapons lab, the University of California is about to face a public airing of alleged mismanagement of a different kind at the weapons lab it manages in Livermore, California. The Alameda County Superior Court has set a September 22, 2003 trial date for a nationally-significant gender discrimination class action charging Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL or the Lab) with depriving thousands of current and former female employees of equal pay and promotions. The suit further charges that the Lab, a federal Department of Energy (DOE) facility managed by the Regents of the University of California, has documented but failed to correct its discrimination for over a decade. More than 3,000 class members are represented by four law firms, including lead counsel, The Sturdevant Law Firm in San Francisco, and Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ), a national public interest law firm.

"We filed this lawsuit more than four years ago, after female Lab employees had spent decades fighting for equal opportunity," said plaintiffs’ lead counsel James C. Sturdevant. "We look forward to the opportunity to present our case to a jury and win pay equity and promotions long overdue for these highly qualified women. Sex discrimination is intolerable anywhere, but it is especially abhorrent in a laboratory that conducts critical research for national security."

"Sex discrimination is intolerable anywhere, but it is especially abhorrent in a laboratory that conducts critical research for national security."

Like the recent scandal at Los Alamos, the gender discrimination class action raises important issues for the Regents and the DOE about the extent to which those agencies have exercised responsible oversight of lab management. Although the Regents has a committee responsible for overseeing the three labs managed by the University, neither that committee nor the University’s Laboratory Administration Office seems to have paid any attention at all to the allegations of gender discrimination, according to plaintiffs’ attorneys who have taken depositions of officials from both agencies. A recent study conducted by the General Accounting Office at the request of Congress, concluding that professional women at LLNL were not paid as well as their male peers, has been ignored by both the DOE and the Regents. Indeed, both agencies have given the Lab high ratings for its human resources operation without even mentioning the allegations of discrimination.

The class action suit, Singleton v. Regents of the University of California, contends that female Lab employees at all levels earn significantly less than male employees with comparable education and experience. LLNL’s Affirmative Action Diversity Program has acknowledged that there has been limited advancement of women employees at the Lab. For example, the Program drafted a 1991 report, Review of LLNL Promotional Opportunities for Women and Minorities, which noted that only 10 female scientists and engineers held scientific management positions, compared with 238 men in such positions. Another Lab study confirmed that "a salary lag does exist for women and minorities."

Despite the Lab’s earlier efforts to keep its internal gender equity studies secret under the guise of attorney-client privilege, the trial court ordered the Lab to turn those studies over to the plaintiffs. Those studies provide some of the most compelling evidence of the Lab’s discrimination against women, identifying gross disparities between the salaries and ranking of male and female employees.

"The Regents cannot pretend to operate a first-class national security lab if they continue to treat women as second-class citizens."

"The Lab’s own studies, as well as a study conducted by the GAO, confirm that there is a huge gender gap in pay and promotional opportunities for Lab employees," said TLPJ Staff Attorney Victoria Ni, co-counsel in the case. "The Regents cannot pretend to operate a first-class national security lab if they continue to treat women as second-class citizens."

The plaintiffs filed suit only after trying for more than two decades to persuade the management of the Lab to recognize and correct pervasive and systemic discrimination against women at the Lab. The lawsuit alleges violations of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act on behalf of all similarly situated female employees of the Lab. Judge Ronald Sabraw certified the case as a class action in January 2001.

"The pervasive sex discrimination at the Lab clearly demands the attention of the Regents and the Department of Energy," said The TLPJ Foundation’s President-Elect Gary Gwilliam of Oakland’s Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer, who is also co-counsel in the case. "They should act immediately to correct the longstanding injustices at the Lab and save taxpayers the substantial expense of a lengthy jury trial."

In addition to Sturdevant, Ni and Gwilliam, the plaintiffs’ legal team includes Mark Johnson and Karen Hindin of The Sturdevant Law Firm; and Todd Schneider and Guy Wallace of San Francisco’s Schneider & Wallace.

Key briefs in the Singleton case are posted on TLPJ’s web site, www.tlpj.org.

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Trial Lawyers for Public Justice is the only national public interest law firm dedicated to using trial lawyers’ skills and resources to advance the public good. Founded in 1982, TLPJ utilizes a nationwide network of more than 2,700 outstanding trial lawyers to pursue precedent-setting and socially significant litigation. It has a wide-ranging litigation docket in the areas of consumer rights, environmental protection, toxic torts, worker safety, civil rights and liberties, and access to the courts. TLPJ is the principal project of The TLPJ Foundation, a not-for-profit membership organization. It has offices in Washington, DC, and Oakland, CA. TLPJ’s State Coordinator for Northern California is Althea Kippes, tel. (415) 398-5054.

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