Ex-SDG&E Worker Claims Racism, Harassment In Lawsuit

Bilal Abdullah Says He Was Wrongfully Fired By Company In Oct. 2010

A local company that has been praised for its treatment of minorities is now facing startling allegations and a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Former employee Bilal Abdullah is accusing San Diego Gas & Electric of racism and harassment, and he spoke to 10News' Michael Chen about what ultimately led to his decision to sue the company.

Several years ago, on the back of his work truck, Abdullah said he found a noose.

"I just felt totally degraded," said the now-54-year-old Abdullah.

Chen asked, "How would you describe the work environment at SDG&E?"

Abdullah answered, "Humiliating and stressful."

First hired as a janitor in 1992, Abdullah was eventually promoted to lineman at a work site in central San Diego.

In 2002, Abdullah began voicing concerns about the lack of minorities in certain training. He said he wrote letters to superiors and spoke up at meetings.

Soon after, when a black employee got promoted, Abdullah said he overheard a fellow worker call him the N-word.

"How often did you hear the N-word?" asked Chen.

"Regularly," Abdullah answered.

Eventually, Abdullah said he found that noose and others in his work site.

In 2009, Abdullah said several racially offensive photos -- a presidential limo with rims, a trap for African-Americans -- were allowed to be posted in the tool room for months.

Abdullah showed 10News numerous complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and supervisors at SDG&E.

"Nothing happened. Nothing ever happened in these situations. The EEOC did tell the company they had to do better, but nothing changed," said Abdullah.

In October 2010, months after another complaint to the EEOC, Abdullah was fired, leading to a suit alleging civil rights violations.

"They fired him to shut him up. They didn't want him standing up for himself and others," said Dan Gilleon, Abdullah's attorney.

In a statement, SDG&E said Abdullah was terminated for a "serious safety violation."

Abdullah said the incident SDG&E is referring to involved a live line that damaged equipment, but blames the foreman on the job.

"It wasn't my fault," said Abdullah.

Abdullah, a father of 9, called the incident an excuse to fire him and to stop his complaining.

"It sends a message that discrimination will be tolerated. I don't want this to happen to anyone else," said Abdullah.

In a statement, SDG&E said it "takes all matters of diversity very seriously ... A discrimination and harassment free workplace policy ... Outlines our commitment to diversity in the workplace and expectations for employees to create a work environment free from discrimination. SDG&E's parent company, Sempra Energy, was named one of the top 40 companies for diversity by Black Enterprise Magazine. Overall 52 percent of the workforce is minority."

To view SDG&E's complete statement, click here.

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