South Carolina Court of Appeals Affirms Punitive Damage Award for Stephenson & Murphy Client

On April 25, 2018, the South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed an award of punitive damages in the amount of $350,000 to Denise Parker.

Denise Parker faithfully served the Beta Club for thirty-eight years in a variety of positions.  Parker’s coworkers elected her to serve on a committee that met with representatives of the Beta Club’s board of directors.   The committee had been dealing with morale issues related to Bob Bright, Beta Club’s executive director.   Bright issued warnings to Parker just before the meeting of board members and employee representatives.  This was the first discipline issued to Parker in her thirty-eight year career.  Because of the discipline, Parker was scared to discuss issues with the board members.  The board’s vice chair assured Parker that she would not be terminated for providing information.  Parker provided truthful information and, contrary to the the assurances, Bright promptly fired her.

At trial, Parker’s supervisors and coworkers informed the Spartanburg jury of Parker’s dedication and impeccable reputation.  Numerous witnesses debunked Bright’s justifications for firing Parker.

Parker prevailed on a legal theory of breach of contract accompanied by fraudulent act.  The jury found that Beta Club breached the promise to not fire Parker for giving truthful information and awarded her $518,000 in lost income.  It also found that Bright gave reasons for the termination that were not true and awarded $350,000 in punitive damages.

The Court of Appeals explained that “[t]he jury was presented abundant evidence of Bright’s plan to oust Parker based on false pretenses.”  As the Court noted, the jury viewed Bright’s reasons as a “diversionary attack on the ‘professionalism’ of a veteran employee respected by her peers.”