SAN FRANCISCO -- A man who says he was hired to help clean up PG&E's shoddy records system in the wake of the deadly San Bruno blast has sued the utility, alleging he was fired after resisting its efforts to mislead regulators.
Former Pacific Gas and Electric manager Christopher Surbey claims the utility used information he provided about the company's geographical mapping system to trick regulators into granting rate increases that would be spent in a "haphazard" fashion. He filed his suit Tuesday in San Francisco federal court.
PG&E characterized Surbey's claims as "inaccurate." Spokesman Greg Snapper said Surbey lost his job because of layoffs in late 2011, not retaliation. He was among about 200 people let go from the utility's then 1,800 member IT department as part of a reorganization.
Surbey claims he was hired by the utility in February 2011 to help the company fix its geographic information system, which contained data about the company's more than 6,000 miles of pipeline. Federal investigators who probed the 2010 PG&E gas line explosion in San Bruno found the utility's "incomplete and inaccurate pipeline information" as a contributing cause of the blast.
Eight people died in the fire and 38 homes were destroyed during the rupture and resulting fire.
Surbey says he was one of few PG&E's team leaders with experience on geographic information systems (GIS) when he came on board. He had been working in that field, including a stretch with South California Edison, for two decades. And for a time things went well with Surbey winning accolades for a successful GIS system update, the suit says.
But in the fall of 2011 he alleges the company used information he provided about needed fixes to the GIS to justify millions of dollars in rate hikes.
"PG&E was simply using the need for a GIS overhaul to request more money from (California Public Utilities Commission) with no intention of actually delivering an overhaul, instead spending the money elsewhere in a haphazard fashion," he claims.
The utility says the lawsuit contains numerous inaccuracies, including about Surbey's claims about his former position at the company. Though the suit alleges he was working on an update of the GIS system, that's not true, according to Snapper.
"He wasn't a full-time project manager on the gas system; someone else was leading that effort," Snapper said.
Surbey has demanded an unspecified amount of damages and attorney's fees. His lawyer Dow Patten didn't immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.