SAN DIEGO (CBS 8/CNS) - A jury Wednesday awarded $1.3 million in punitive damages to a longtime SDG&E employee who claimed he was fired after he complained that the utility was targeting low-income households with delinquent notices to make money on late fees.
David Bryant, a former SDG&E billing supervisor, won more than $860,000 when jurors returned their compensatory verdict in the case Tuesday.
The jury found SDG&E liable on three of four counts, including wrongful termination and retaliation.
According to Bryant, utility managers in 2008 began telling workers to start hand-delivering delinquent notices -- for which customers can legally be charged $9 -- in high-density, low-income areas such as central San Diego.
Bryant said that when he complained about who was getting the notices, he was fired. He and his attorney expect the utility will pass on the cost of the litigation to ratepayers.
"I don't think it was about the money, it was about the principal of what they were doing to the public. I sacrificed my entire career for that," Bryant said.
"Today the jury spoke and said listen, you had no reason to terminate him and you fired him for blowing the whistle on illegal activities by clear, convincing evidence," attorney Dan Gilleon said.
In a statement, SDG&E said it "strongly disagreed" with the finding for the plaintiff and plans 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," the statement said.
"Forty employees were interviewed as 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 invested thoroughly. SDG&E investigated Mr. Bryant's claims and found them to be without merit."