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Savannah River Employees Say They Were Fired for Disclosing Drug Use

October 29, 1991 GMT

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) _ Three workers who contend they were fired from the Savannah River nuclear weapons plant because they disclosed illegal drug use by employees have filed a lawsuit against the former operator.

Roger Wensil, his wife, Norma, and Joy P. Adams are seeking $2 million in compensatory damages and an unspecified amount in punitive compensation from Du Pont and a subcontractor for whom they worked, B.F. Shaw Co.

They were dismissed after Wensil reported to officials in April 1985 that employees were openly using and selling drugs at the plant near Aiken, the lawsuit alleges.

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The lawsuit was filed Oct. 23 in Charleston County Common Pleas Court by lawyer Stephen Henry. He declined to disclose the reason it was filed here.

Du Pont and B.F. Shaw have denied they fired the three for disclosing drug abuse.

Wensil, who worked as a pipefitter for Shaw for 14 months, says he was fired six months after making his disclosure to the company, Du Pont and the U.S. Department of Energy.

A month after Wensil left the plant, he married Norma Morris, a Shaw employee. She was harassed and forced out of her job in April 1986 because of her husband’s disclosures, the lawsuit alleges.

When the Energy Department began investigating Wensil’s claims, Ms. Adams confirmed illegal drug use at the plant. A Du Pont employee threatened her with legal action if she did not change her statement, but Ms. Adams refused, the lawsuit alleges.

Ms. Adams subsequently was transferred to a section from which workers were to be laid off, the lawsuit contends. She lost her job in December 1986.

In February 1987, the U.S. Department of Labor reported the plant had ″a fairly serious drug abuse problem.″ It found Wensil and Ms. Adams had been unfairly dismissed and ordered an investigation of supervisors involved.

Wensil was reinstated to his job with back pay in June 1987. He contends, however, that he was reassigned to a highly contaminated radioactive area with no equipment to monitor his exposure. He says in the lawsuit that this was an attempt to make him leave his job. He quit three months later.

Du Pont said there was no relationship between Wensil’s claims of employee drug use and a decision to begin a drug-testing program a short time later, the lawsuit said.

Nearly 100 construction workers at the plant were fired in the first year for drug use. More recent reports show seven reactor operators were fired for drug use between 1980 and 1989, The Post and Courier of Charleston reported.

Westinghouse Savannah River Co. took over operation of the Savannah River Plant, which now is called the Savannah River Site, in 1989.

B.F. Shaw of Laurens shut down its operations at the plant in November 1987 and was sold, said a spokesman for Blount Inc. Shaw’s parent company, Blount of Montgomery, Ala., also is named as a defendant in the lawsuits.