SAN DIEGO - A jury has awarded more than $2 million to a former San Diego Gas & Electric supervisor who says he blew the whistle on unfair bill collection practices.
“In the end, I feel vindicated,” said David Bryant.
A civil jury awarded more than $860,000 in compensatory damages and $1.3 million in punitive damages.
“The money was more important than the public and that's why we ended up here,” said Bryant.
In 2011, the former longtime billing supervisor told Team 10 that when he complained about unfair billing practices, he was fired.
Bryant says 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 lot of outstanding bills and only a few dozen collection crews, he says workers were told to focus in on certain areas like central San Diego.
He says high-income homes were given a break because the notices were more spread out. Reaching them was less cost-effective.
His attorneys also argued many of the notices were delivered without even a knock at the door, which is against state regulations. Another claim was the utility was charging some residents for power shutoffs that never happened.
SDG&E contended Bryant was fired for his performance, including his treatment of co-workers, but jurors did not buy it.
Juror Rose Hamler calls the billing practices –suspect.
“I think they were just pulling a fast one … We are the public and that's the voice of the public you heard today,” she said.
Bryant and his attorney Dan Gilleon say they hope the decision will lead to changes at SDG&E.
“At one point, the SDG&E attorney said we don't disagree with you when our expert says this violates PUC tariffs … What I hope is SDG&E starts treating its employees better and starts playing by the rules,” said Gilleon.
“I hope this shows people should speak up and report wrongdoing,” said Bryant.
In a statement, SDG&E said:
“San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) strongly disagrees with the outcome of the trial and we plan to appeal. We believe that the evidence presented at trial showed that we reached the decision to terminate Mr. Bryant’s employment after a comprehensive 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. We have numerous channels for employees to report unethical behaviors and all claims are investigated thoroughly. SDG&E investigated Mr. Bryant’s claims and found them to be without merit.”
Team 10 asked the utility if the collection practices in question are still being used.
A representative for the utility sent back a one-line response: “SDG&E’s billing and collections practices are in compliance with our tariffs.”
If SDG&E loses the appeal, it will be shareholders, not ratepayers, who pay the millions.