SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA (12/16/2013) – Matthew Niswonger, formerly employed by PG&E, won a wrongful termination lawsuit against the company. He received over $1 million because of safety complaints that he made to PG&E, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinal.
Mr. Niswonger was employed by PG&E for around eight years. He worked in Live Oak on power lines. In July of 2011, he and his crew were assigned to remove and replace an electrical pole.
The supervisor coordinating the project said he believed it was safe for the crew to work without shutting off the power. One of the cross arms on the pole broke off. According to Mr. Niswonger, high-voltage live wires came very close and almost touched each other, which would have caused an explosion.
Fortunately, they finished the assignment with no injuries.
Later they learned that more than one PG&E crew rejected the assignment because of the live wires, which they thought were too hazardous to work on.
On the next assignment, a different crew worked on the line again. However, this time they were allowed to shut off the power line while working.
Mr. Niswonger filed an official safety complaint with PG&E regarding their supervisor’s disregard of safety procedures.
Because of how his crew was forced to work with live wires, Mr. Niswonger never felt safe working again. He began to suffer from depression, anxiety and panic attacks. He ended up taking a medical leave that lasted one month. Mr. Niswonger’s supervisor requested that he appear at the workplace so they could discuss his medical leave. Mr. Niswonger refused and said he was not coming back to work. Sometime during September 2011, he was fired via voicemail by his supervisor.
As of June 2012, Mr. Niswonger ended up filed a lawsuit claiming wrongful termination.
His suit asked for compensation for benefits and wages he had lost. He also asked to be compensated for emotional distress. The Honorable John Gallagher, a Superior Judge for the County of Santa Cruz, was the judge for the case. It was a jury trial and was heard between November 4th and November 12th. The crux of the case was proving that the safety complaint was made in good faith, but the safety complaint made him a whistle-blower and was a large part of the reason for his termination, even though companies are forbidden to retaliate against whistle-blowers.
The jury agreed. Mr. Niswonger’s award was as follows: $500,000 to compensate him because of his emotional distress, $595,615 for his loss of benefits and wages, $500,000 for emotional distress, and an order that PG&E had to pay all of his legal fees.