Share this article

print logo

Worker with cancer alleges bias in suing West Valley contractor

A worker who has filed a discrimination lawsuit in federal court against West Valley Environmental Services said the company is putting workers in danger.

Bob Timmel, a janitor, had worked as a nuclear operator at the site for 18 years and kept his job even after he was diagnosed in 2003 with Stage 1 malignant lymphoma -- a condition that his doctor believes was caused by exposure to nuclear waste.

He said he is scared but returns to work each night, even though he has been demoted to a night shift janitor.

"I am an uninsurable person. The medical costs and the money they owe me are the only reasons I'm there," Timmel said in a recent interview.

He is one of 123 workers for the Energy Department contractor suffering from cancer who have opened 193 cases through the Labor Department seeking $150,000 compensation and medical payments under the Radiation Compensation Act.

In the complaint he filed Jan. 5 in U.S. District Court in Buffalo, Timmel details allegations of discrimination and retaliation -- beginning in 2005, when he told a supervisor about back disabilities and his oncologist's orders for gear to shield him from radiation that might worsen his cancer.

Timmel said one supervisor told him to get a different job because the company needed people who could "suit up and do all the work" while another issued a memo calling for medical assessments of employees who might not be "medically fit."

In 2007, Timmel and a co-worker were fired after a non-hazardous box fell 3 feet from a forklift while the men were moving it out for disposal.

Local 2401, International Aerospace and Machinists, took the firing to arbitration, and during the proceedings, Timmel said, he turned down a $30,000 lump sum buyout offer from West Valley Environmental Services.

The arbitrator ruled the accident "did not rise to the level of gross negligence" and the terminations were "unwarranted and unnecessary."

Both men returned to work Jan. 2, 2008, with back pay, but on that day they were forced to undergo the health assessment.

According to the complaint, West Valley officials often make arrangements for other disabled workers but "failed to not only reasonably accommodate [his] disability, they further blatantly retaliated -- by demoting him."

The accommodations Timmel requested included lifting restrictions and a "negative pressure" respirator to guard against radiation exposure in certain areas of the plant.

He said he was refused a dosimetry badge to signal radiation exposure.

Last April, Timmel was demoted to janitor at $14.26 an hour, less than half his former pay. Last October, he received permission from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to sue.

The complaint asks U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny for a jury trial and alleges discrimination, retaliation and failure to accommodate Timmel's disabilities.

Timmel also asks for disability accommodations so he can return to his job as a nuclear operator or to a similar position.

Lost earnings and benefits with interest, punitive damages and payment for his pain and suffering also are being sought.

West Valley must respond to the complaint by March 3.

Company attorney James Donathen said in a phone message Thursday he could not comment on the case.

There are no comments - be the first to comment