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On the eve of trial, the University of California agreed to pay nearly $1 million to a Livermore lab employee who says she was forced out after she helped uncover billing abuses. However, both the UC-run Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and ex-lab worker Michelle Doggett’s attorneys claimed moral victory Monday. “They never did anything except … turned against her and slapped someone on the wrist,” said Doggett’s Oakland, Calif., lawyer, J. Gary Gwilliam. Doggett’s and similar lab cases have increased congressional scrutiny of the UC, he said. “It represents closure,” said Doggett, a 41-year-old former lab resource analyst. “I know what they did to me. I know that they continue to cover things up.” Spokeswoman Susan Houghton maintains that the lab did nothing wrong. “This represents moving on,” Houghton said. The lab values Doggett’s help investigating misconduct, Houghton said, but “we didn’t retaliate against her.” Doggett’s $989,000 settlement signals the end of the civil case, Doggett v. Regents of the University of California, 829369, which was scheduled to begin trial last Friday. According to the lab’s media Web page, Doggett will get $561,000, and Gwilliam’s fees totaled $428,000. Gwilliam, a partner at Oakland’s Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer, said the $428,000 figure is inflated because it included both costs and attorney fees, but declined to say what his firm’s fee is. Doggett has no complaints with the contingency fee agreement, Gwilliam said, and he is “not ashamed” of his work. Houghton said the lab spent $326,000 defending itself against the 3-year-old suit. Doggett, who worked at the lab for 13 years, discovered billing abuses around 1995. She says that workers billed time for projects that they didn’t work on and some subcontractors were paid for work that didn’t get done. According to Doggett, a lab official told her that one subcontractor’s pay was essentially “a bribe.” Doggett eventually became a lab informant and helped the lab investigate. However, her suit says, lab officials eventually turned their backs on her. Doggett’s involvement in the billing probe was leaked to co-workers, she was given less work, and was forced to quit in 1999, according to her suit. The lab, which was represented by Littler Mendelson and in-house attorney Gabriela Odell, has denied that Doggett was mistreated. While Doggett says that the billing abuses ranged from a few thousand to several hundred thousand dollars, Houghton has said Doggett only helped reveal about $40,000 in irregularities. The lab also offered Doggett a job a month before she filed her lawsuit, Houghton has said. The case comes as the University of California regents have settled a dispute with another whistleblower who was fired after he uncovered financial abuse at another UC lab in Los Alamos, N.M. In August, the lab agreed to pay $930,000 to Glen Walp, an investigator whose firing led to a congressional probe into UC management of that lab. The UC has also been pressured by Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., to address skyrocketing legal costs generated by lawsuits. The Recorder reported that the lab spent $6 million on litigation in 2002 — 2 1/2 times what it spent a year earlier. Much of that money — $4.6 million — was spent to fight Singleton v. Regents, a gender discrimination class action that was scheduled to head to trial this month. That trial has been delayed so the First District Court of Appeal can decide whether the plaintiff can pursue pattern and practice claims and determine which plaintiffs will be eligible for damages, said plaintiffs attorney Mark Johnson. The parties are also involved in intense mediation talks, said Johnson, an attorney at The Sturdevant Law Firm. On Monday, Gwilliam said all of the controversy swirling around the lab may prod it into settling more cases. He says the Department of Justice, for example, interviewed Doggett within the past year about her case. Houghton says the DOJ inquiry happened “years ago” and stressed that the UC settlements at the Los Alamos and Livermore labs were not related. “That is far-fetched,” Houghton said. “Each case is decided on its own merits.”

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