By Jaikumar Vijayan
August 22, 2007
Six months after being awarded more than $4.7 million in damages and
other costs stemming from a wrongful termination suit against Sandia
National Laboratories, Shawn Carpenter, a former security analyst at the
organization, has yet to collect a dime.
In the meantime, a 15% per year postjudgment interest fee added to the
jury award has added more than $300,000 to the original amount since the
"The way Sandia's current management and oversight contract is set up
with the Department of Energy, they basically have an unlimited bucket
of taxpayer money to fund their legal endeavors," Carpenter said. "The
case will likely drag on for years."
A spokesman from Sandia did not immediately respond to a request for
updates on the case. But in the past, the laboratory has said that while
it respects the jury process, it intends to pursue its right to appeal
the verdict all the way to the New Mexico Supreme Court, if need be. The
lab has defended its right to able to discipline employees who violate
Carpenter, a onetime network intrusion-detection analyst at Sandia, was
fired in January 2005 for sharing information related to an internal
network compromise with the FBI and the U.S. Army. Sandia alleged that
Carpenter had inappropriately shared confidential information he had
gathered in his role as a security analyst for the laboratory.
Carpenter defended his actions by saying he had done so only in the
interest of national security. He claimed that the intrusions he was
investigating appeared to have been perpetrated by a Chinese hacking
group called Titan Rain that had been linked to several serious
incidents at various U.S. government agencies. Carpenter also claimed
that he had tried unsuccessfully to get the information to the other
agencies through proper channels at Sandia before deciding to share the
information on his own with the other agencies.
After being fired by Sandia, Carpenter filed a lawsuit against the
agency for wrongful termination.
In February, a New Mexico jury awarded Carpenter more than $4.3 million
in punitive damages and more than $400,000 in other damages. A few weeks
later, the New Mexico district court district presiding over the case
added the 15% per year in postjudgment interest to the original award
while Sandia's appeal worked its way through the courts. According to
Carpenter, Sandia has hired three new attorneys in addition to the two
previously handling the case to tackle the posttrial appeals process.
The costs involved in litigation for contracts such as Sandia have
typically been reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Energy, Carpenter
noted. He pointed to a 2003 report from the U.S. Government
Accountability Office (GAO) that showed that the DOE reimbursed
contractors for $330.5 million in litigation costs associated with 1,895
cases from fiscal 1998 through March 2003. The amount included $249.4
million for litigation costs and $81.1 million for judgments and
The GAO report noted that during the same period, the contractors
themselves only spent only about $12 million of their own money. Rules
regarding reimbursement of legal expenses to DOE contractors have been
tightened. But they don't apply in his case, because it was filed before
the new rules went into effect, Carpenter said.
"I'd like to see people take some responsibility for their actions, but
that probably isn't going to happen," he said.
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