Ex-SDG&E employee awarded in wrongful termination lawsuit
David Bryant says he's pleased with the jury's decision Wednesday. He thinks the $1.3 million will send a message, but he doesn't know if the punishment will force SDG&E to make policy changes. After a month-long trial and 46 witnesses, the case of David Bryant versus his former employer, San Diego Gas & Electric, ended with a hefty sum in punitive damages for Bryant.
Bryant says he hopes the $1.3 million is enough to get SDG&E to change what he calls unlawful practices.
“I'm calm with the situation, I just really have doubts that the punitive side of the penalty would actually encourage SDG&E to do the right thing.”
In 2011, Bryant, an employee of 22 years at SDG&E, was fired after complaining about bill collections targeting densely-populated, low-income areas – a violation of the Public Utilities Commission Law. Utility customers with unpaid bills are charged $9 for hand-delivered notices. Bryant says instead of distributing notices equally, SDG&E pin-pointed areas where they could get more bang for their buck. But the utility company claims they fired Bryant, a supervisor making $90,000 a year, for workplace misconduct. They released a statement saying in part:
“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.”
But for jurors, they hope this punitive portion of the case sent a message about their company policies.
“By them going out there and not knocking on a door, but just leaving something, that's a $9 dollar charge,” said juror Rose Hamler, “that builds up and builds up. So we're hoping this message will tell SDG&E 'hey, we got to look at this and make the public happy.'”
As for Bryant, he hopes the verdict will not deter others from being whistleblowers.
“Hopefully that will encourage other employees, whether it's SDG&E or any other corporation, to stand up for what they believe in and report wrongdoing,” said Bryant.
David Bryant says he's glad this suit is finally over and he can move on. He added that he learned a few things and wants other potential whistleblowers to know: report your claims internally, but also to an outside agency so there's a record. And finally, he says don't be afraid to stand up for what you believe is right.