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Lab answers lawsuit

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In dispute> Former executive John Tapia denies that he was ‘forced to resign’

By Tris DeRoma

Los Alamos Security LLC has responded to lawsuit by  former Los Alamos National Laboratory executive John Tapia.   
“Following a comprehensive, two-month investigation by the laboratory into allegations of multiple policy violations, John Tapia was presented with the findings and opted to resign in lieu of termination,” a spokesman for the laboratory said.  “We are confident that we will prevail in the law.”
The spokesman would not say what those policy violations were.
Attorneys for LANS also filed a response in court Tuesday.
“The LANS defendants deny the allegation … that Mr. Tapia was ‘forced to resign’ and admit that because Mr. Tapia resigned in lieu of termination for cause based on misconduct, Mr. Tapia could not seek employment with LANS, be granted a LANL access badge or work on laboratory property under contract with another employer,” LANS attorneys said.  
Tapia filed his suit in state district court on Dec. 12. He’s alleging LANS forced him to resign in April in an effort to safeguard a $2-billion management and operations contract with the federal government. At the time of his resignation, Tapia was embroiled in allegations surrounding his work with the Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative. He was accused by co-op member John Gutting of illegally billing the cooperative thousands of dollars for telephone calls, meetings and other duties associated with Tapia’s chairmanship of the co-op’s board.
The allegations were later proven false through an internal audit by the cooperative. Tapia’s main accuser, John Gutting also went to the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and the district attorney’s office with the accusations, and they declined to prosecute.
An attorney for Tapia alleges that at most Tapia should have just been disciplined concerning the findings by LANS into its separate investigation of Tapia.
“Contrary to LANS policy, Tapia was never counseled or given progressive discipline on the false allegations that were used as reasons to force him to resign,” Attorney David Cunningham said. “Upon information and belief, initially Tapia’s supervisors recommended that he be counseled or transferred.”
Tapia is also accusing LANS of interfering with his future employment prospects.
“In addition, not only was Tapia improperly forced to resign but LANL informed Tapia that he would not be granted a LANL badge or allowed on LANL property as a contractor,” Cunningham said. “In addition, upon information and belief, LANS managers were later told not to provide a job reference for Tapia even after more than 25 years of service to LANL.”
Tapia started with LANL in 1988 as contractor in the lab’s physics division. When he resigned, he was in charge of 130 employees at the labs as a deputy division leader responsible for acquisition service management.
Tapia is suing for legal costs and punitive damages that will be “revealed at trial,” Cunningham said.