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An Asian-American scientist who was a senior manager at Sandia National Laboratories has filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination.
Robert Hwang, of Albuquerque, filed a lawsuit last year against National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc. that operates and manages Sandia laboratories for the National Nuclear Security Administration.
The case is being heard in the US District Court in the Northern District of California because Hwang was working on Sandia’s California campus in Livermore when he left the lab. He had worked there in both Albuquerque and California during his 28-year career.
Hwang, 60, said he was the only center director of East Asian descent at Sandia, and he faced discrimination shortly after Honeywell acquired Sandia in 2017.
“The … leadership team that Honeywell brought with them was not racial,” Hwang said in an interview. “Especially in the high technology area and especially in California. … I think it’s no secret that Americans of Asian descent are very prominent. So the Sandia numbers compared to peer organizations are missing. “
Paul Rhien, a spokesman for Sandia, said the labs would not be able to comment on any pending litigation.
He said in a statement: “Inclusion and diversity in the workplace are one of Sandia’s defining principles and we take allegations of discrimination against employees on any basis very seriously.”
Hwang was born in Macau and his family immigrated to America in 1964. According to the lawsuit, he became a U.S. citizen in 1973.
In the lawsuit, Hwang describes encounters that he found humiliating. For example, the lawsuit accuses his supervisor, Dori Ellis, now assistant lab director, of ordering Hwang to put his elbows on the table and speak up at meetings with other lab directors, and for treating him differently from his non-Asian colleagues.
He said he tried to explain that his behavior was the result of growing up in Asian and Pacific island cultures that value humility and thoughtful, deliberate communication.
He also said in the lawsuit that he was frequently interrupted and embarrassed by supervisors during presentations.
Hwang said in late 2019 that he was told he was being placed on a performance improvement plan and then announced his intention to retire so he wouldn’t be fired. When he learned that resigning would not affect his pension and retirement benefits, he attempted to reverse that intention but was not allowed to do so, according to the lawsuit.
Court records in the case show that numerous senior Sandia officials were dismissed during the case, including Lab Director James Peery.
The lawsuit calls for damages, special, general and punitive damages.
“I want (the Department of Energy) and Honeywell to know how I’ve been treated. And I hope that once my story is published, other minority scholars will be helped to recognize and understand how they should be treated, ”said Hwang. “National laboratories like Sandia are national treasures. They are funded from our tax money for important missions, for national security and our economic competitiveness. And companies like Honeywell are entrusted with management, so they have a very large responsibility that goes beyond mere profit. I think responsibility extends to values that reflect our nation. “