Former Executive Director Files Lawsuit Against the California Public Utilities Commission

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By: Madison Orcutt

On December 4, 2020, the former executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), Alice Stebbins, filed a complaint against the Commission in the San Francisco Superior Court (Alice Stebbins v. California Public Utilities Commission, et al., Case No. CGC-20-588148 (San Francisco Super. Ct.)). The lawsuit stems from the CPUC commissioners’ unanimous vote to terminate Stebbins on August 31, 2020 after a California State Personnel Board Special Investigation Report concluded that a series of hires made during Stebbins’ tenure were “highly questionable.” [26:1 CRLR __]

Stebbins alleges four causes of action in her complaint. Specifically, she claims that the CPUC violated the California Whistleblower Protection Act, including Government Code section 8547.8, when the commissioners voted to terminate her employment after disclosing to CPUC President Marybel Batjer and other commissioners that she discovered $200 million in uncollected accounts receivables from telecommunication companies, water utilities, investor-owned utilities, and transportation companies. In her complaint, Stebbins characterizes the internal processes for tracking these uncollected accounts receivables as “truly shocking” and alleges that the CPUC “operated on an on an honor system with the Utilities . . . .” Stebbins further alleges that her termination was rooted in her efforts to uncover and fix fiscal and budgetary issues at the CPUC—efforts which she claims President Batjer “showed no interest in.”

Stebbins also asserts that the CPUC violated Labor Code section 1102.5 by retaliating against her and terminating her employment after she disclosed this information, and that the Commission “willfully refused and continues to refuse to pay [her] unpaid wages as required by Labor Code section 203.”

She originally raised a claim for unfair and unlawful business practices under Business and Professions Code section 17200, et seq., but dropped that cause of action in her First Amended Complaint, filed on December 22, 2020. Stebbins seeks compensatory damages including lost wages and employee benefits; general damages for emotional distress, humiliation, and mental anguish; double damages for back pay pursuant to Government Code section 12635; penalties and damages pursuant to Labor Code section 203; punitive and/or exemplary damages; interest; costs related to the lawsuit; and attorney’s fees.

At this writing, the Commission has not yet filed a responsive pleading. A case management conference is set before Department 610 of the San Francisco Superior Court on May 5, 2021.

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