On December 16, 2013, a forty-four-year-old ex-PG&E power line worker was given over $1 million in a civil claim subsequent to making safety complaints and being dismissed in 2012. Live Oak resident Matthew Niswonger was employed by PG&E for nearly eight years. His crew was demanded to restore a broken electrical pole on Hihn Road in Ben Lomond in July 2011. His supervisor stated the repair could be accomplished without turning off power. Thus, Niswonger and two coworkers accomplished it—but it was traumatic labor. He stated that a cross arm shattered as they were laboring, and live, high-voltage wires almost touched each other. They fortunately finished the job and nobody was harmed. They later discovered that at least one other PG&E crew refused the job due to it appearing hazardous with live wires. Almost one month later, another crew performed more work on the line—but they received permission from supervisors to turn off the power line for almost one-hundred customers on Hihn Road throughout the job.
Niswonger’s San Francisco-based lawyer, Jonathan Siegel, stated that his client made a safety complaint and basically thought he was in danger at work afterward. As stated by the initial complaint, Niswonger experienced panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. He was given a one-month medical absence, but his supervisor demanded him to come to work to discuss the absence. He telephoned to state that he would not come back to work, and he and his supervisor swapped voicemails that week. Niswonger’s supervisor dismissed him in a September 2011 voicemail.
In June 2012, Niswonger filed a wrongful termination claim, and his lawyer stated that the delay in filing was due to Niswonger seeking a lawyer. He took legal action for missing earnings, missing benefits, and emotional suffering. Santa Cruz County Superior Judge John Gallagher listened to the case in a jury trial from November 4 to November 27, 2012. Niswonger’s lawyer really had to establish that he made a safety complaint in good faith and a considerable portion of his firing was part of that safety complaint. The jury gave Niswonger $595,615 for missing earnings and benefits and $500,000 for emotional suffering. In addition, PG&E was commanded to finance Niswonger’s legal costs.