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Sandia Ruined Me, Suit Says

By Scott Sandlin
Journal Staff Writer
    For more than a decade, Patricia Gingrich's career at Sandia National Laboratories rocketed— until she became a scapegoat for congressional criticism over real or perceived security lapses at the lab, she claims in a lawsuit.
    Virtually overnight, she went from being well-respected, well-praised and well-paid— a model of professional rectitude— to an institutional "pariah," the lawsuit says.
    Gingrich was the lab's intelligence director— director of the systems assessment and research group— at the time of her fall from grace last year.
    Her advance came to an abrupt halt and her reputation was destroyed after Congress accused Sandia of being lax on security, she contends.
    Lab director Paul Robinson announced on June 24, 2003, that Gingrich would be reassigned to a group working on "evolving counterterrorism strategies" and that Dave Nokes, vice president for national security and arms control, would retire at Robinson's request.
    Sandia spokesman John German said the lab, as a policy matter, does not comment on litigation.
    Gingrich had come to Sandia from a sister lab, Bell Laboratories, where she worked from 1980 to 1990. She held a top-secret clearance and was a manager of government research programs.
    She moved to Sandia under then-president Al Narath, who encouraged her to make a permanent career move and told her that at Sandia, "there would be no limits placed on her opportunity to advance," the suit said.
    The changes affecting Gingrich and Nokes came after the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, issued a report critical of the National Nuclear Security Agency, set up four years ago to oversee security at five nuclear labs.
    Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, became the torchbearer for lab critics, proclaiming that "our nuclear secrets are not safe."
    Gingrich contends that Robinson, in targeting her and Nokes, "hoped to protect his own career at Sandia and to protect Sandia from the wrath, and possible budget cuts, of Congress." The actions were an attempt to appear "proactive ... and responsive to Congress' and (the Department of Energy) concerns," she contends.
    The discipline followed a 221-page report prepared by former U.S. Attorney Norman Bay, now a professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law. Most of the report was redacted, but its summary said the lab obstructed one of five internal security investigations but had not retaliated against investigators. The report examined investigations of security officers videotaped "power-napping" on duty and keys that went missing for 11 days.
    It encouraged the lab to do more to encourage employee reporting of problems and independent investigations.
    The lawsuit says that because of "careless or deliberately false statements made to Bay," Gingrich was unfairly tagged with "acquiescing in the destruction of a computer disc that allegedly contained e-mails between two Sandia employees suspected of an inappropriate romantic liaison."
    Gingrich's lawsuit, filed May 19 in Bernalillo County District Court by attorney John Boyd, claims Sandia demoted her, cut her pay by $11,000, reduced her benefits, transferred her to less important duties and publicly announced her punishment "even though they well knew Gingrich had no role or blame in the supposed security problems."
    In private, the lawsuit says, "Robinson explicitly informed Gingrich ... that he knew that (she) was blameless."
    Gingrich made claims under state law of breach of contract, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
    Robinson's news release announcing management changes continues to be published on Sandia's internal Web site, the suit says, as well as a redacted version of the Bay report with clear references to Gingrich.
    While the transformation described in the complaint would have been hard on anyone's career, the suit says the fact that Gingrich was in intelligence "made it extreme."