Depositions point to alleged racism inside San Diego Gas and Electric

SAN DIEGO - As a civil trial is about to unfold, 10News has obtained video revealing more explosive allegations of racism inside San Diego Gas & Electric.

Several employees have stepped forward in sworn testimony, amid a worker's claims that he was fired when he complained of racial harassment.

"I know [a noose] was left on the back of one of the foreman's trucks," said one SDG&E worker, under oath, talking about examples of alleged racism at the power company.

In a separate deposition, another lineman, Sinclair Smith, claimed a supervisor "said, 'What are you guys complaining about? At least you're not in the field picking cotton.'"

10News obtained the testimony more than a week ahead of the civil trial for Bilal Abdullah, who claims he was fired in 2010 for complaining of the treatment of minorities and racial harassment, including a noose on the back of his work truck and offensive photos he said were posted in a tool room for months. One showed a presidential limo with rims, while another pictured a watermelon used as bait for a trap.

SDG&E said Abdullah was fired for a serious safety violation, which he disputes.  

10News learned a group of workers will be testifying in court, apparently in support of claims of a racially charged atmosphere between 2004 and 2009, when at least four nooses were found, when the N-word was heard often and seen on bathroom stalls.

Smith said at one point, a manager issued an order.

"We could no longer work together because it's a bad image for the company, an all black crew. that upset all of us," said Smith.

Abdullah's attorney, Dan Gilleon, said anytime someone complained, little was done.

"Despite the fact that SDG&E says they don't tolerate this, the bottom line is that they do," said Gilleon, "What we're saying to the jury is when Abdullah complained about it, he got fired."

The trial is set to get underway October 19.

"No government agency has investigated the lawsuit, much less found it 'without merit,'" said Gilleon. "The government simply gave us the 'right to sue.'  SDG&E has repeatedly asked the Judge to toss our case and has lost each time."

Gilleon said that while SDG&E's parent company Sempra made Black Enterprises' list in 2008, the distinction was only for the supplier diversity category,  not for general diversity or  senior management. He said Sempra has not made the list since.

SDG&E issued the following statement regarding the case:

"Mr. Abdullah was terminated nearly two years ago for serious safety violations that caused an explosion and could have killed one or more people. SDG&E has an uncompromising commitment to employee and public safety. Safety is paramount to our core mission of delivering safe and reliable gas and electricity.

As a result of his termination, Mr. Abdullah filed a grievance, following procedures in SDG&E's collective bargaining agreement with its labor union. The dispute was not resolved in mediation. Rather than continue to arbitration under the prescribed grievance process, Mr. Abdullah filed a lawsuit against SDG&E alleging incidents of harassment and discrimination that have already been investigated by government agencies and found to be without merit.

Mr. Abdullah and his attorneys are now seeking to try his case in the media. The company considers it highly inappropriate to broadcast the depositions of our employees, particularly considering they have not consented. Mr. Abdullah's lawyers have provided out of context snippets of employee depositions that are misleading.

The Sempra Energy companies value diversity, respect, and inclusion as critical components of our business operations. SDG&E employs a culturally diverse workforce and is a nationally recognized leader in promoting and celebrating diversity in the workplace. Respecting and appreciating each other's differences is part of our corporate culture and our company values."
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