Ex-SDG&E worker: Utility targeted late notices in low-income areas to reap profits

Suit vs. company to begin Thursday

SAN DIEGO - Opening statements in a wrongful termination civil trial are expected Thursday involving a longtime San Diego Gas & Electric employee who says the utility was targeting low-income homes to reap profits.

If you let your SDG&E bill slide for a few months, you could get a knock on the door and a disconnect notice -- or maybe not.

"I was highly upset about it," David Bryant told Team 10 in a 2011 interview.

In the 2011 interview, Bryant, a former billing supervisor and a SDG&E employee for more than two decades, said when he complained about who was getting the notices, he was fired.

According to Bryant, in 2008, company managers began focusing on the delinquent notices, in which ratepayers can legally be charged $9 for the mandated hand deliveries.

With a mountain of outstanding bills and only a few dozen collection crews, Bryant said workers were told to zero in on certain areas like central San Diego.

Bryant said crews were literally given Thomas Guide map pages and sent to high-density, low-income areas day after day.

Bryant told Team 10 high-income homes were given a break because they were more spread out. Reaching them, he said, was less cost-effective.

"It made me feel like they were targeting low-income areas to maximize profits," said Bryant.

Bryant said, for example, documents show on one January day in 2011, nearly 2,000 ratepayers were visited for a total charge of more than $17,000. Eighty-four percent of the visits were in southeast San Diego.

Consumer advocate Charles Langley said SDG&E will argue that delivering the notices efficiently is not illegal.

"They'll contend the law requires us to do this, we're complying with the law, and it just so happens more people get shut off in poorer neighborhoods," said Langley.

In a statement, SDG&E said:

"San Diego Gas & Electric reached the decision to terminate Mr. Bryant's employment after a thorough investigation of allegations that he conducted himself at work in a manner that violated company policies. Forty employees were interviewed as a part of this investigation and it was determined that he engaged in extremely inappropriate conduct for a supervisor.

Mr. Bryant's allegations that SDG&E engaged in wrongdoing are completely false, as are his allegations that the company terminated his employment in retaliation for his having complained about its practices.

SDG&E maintains a strict business ethics policy.  Nothing is more important than our ethics and integrity. SDG&E demands ethical business conduct and compliance with the laws and regulations that govern our business from all company employees and contractors.  Mr. Bryant did not follow our ethical standards and policies of respect in regards to the way he treated employees who reported to him.

We look forward to telling our story in court. SDG&E will not have further comments on this case until the case has been heard and jury has reached a verdict."

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