March 6, 2018
from Spartanburg County R. Keith Kelly, Circuit Court Judge
A. Bright and David Lee Harris, Jr. of Ogletree Deakins Nash
Smoak & Stewart, PC, of Greenville, for Appellant.
Patrick Murphy, of Stephenson & Murphy, LLC, of
Greenville, for Respondent.
she was fired by the National Honorary Beta Club (Beta Club),
a jury awarded Denise Parker actual damages for breach of
contract and punitive damages for breach of contract
accompanied by a fraudulent act. Beta Club now appeals the
trial court's denial of its directed verdict and JNOV
motions, asserting there was not sufficient evidence of
breach of contract accompanied by a fraudulent act to submit
punitive damages to the jury. We affirm.
Parker had been employed at will by Beta Club for
thirty-eight years, when Bob Bright arrived as CEO in 2013.
Bright reorganized the company, reassigning various
employees, including Parker. Parker's co-workers elected
her to a staff-liaison committee reporting to Beta Club's
Internal Affairs Committee (IAC), which included several
members of the company's board of directors. On October
21, 2013, Bright summoned Parker to a meeting to give her a
disciplinary note listing concerns about her professionalism.
When Parker pressed Bright for a specific example of her
shortcomings, Bright responded he could "bring the whole
office staff down here" to give instances where Parker
had not been helpful to them. He mentioned that just that
morning, Parker did not perform a task requested by Barbara
Anderson. Parker left the meeting shaken, and soon saw
Anderson, who asked what was wrong. When Parker apologized to
Anderson for not doing what Anderson had asked, Anderson
replied she did not know what Parker was talking about.
Parker explained Bright had told her she had not done what
Anderson asked her to do; Anderson assured her she had.
October 25, 2013, during the IAC's regular meeting with
the staff-liaison committee, a board member asked Parker
about her recent meeting with Bright. After a member of the
IAC told Parker she could not be fired for answering its
questions, she revealed details of her meeting, including
Bright's allegation about the Barbara Anderson incident.
Bright was not present at the IAC meeting, and he was out of
town the next week. Bright met with Parker the following
Monday, November 4, and handed her another disciplinary note,
stating she was negative and failed to respond to emails.
When Bright asserted he understood Parker had been negative
with the IAC, she explained she had only answered the
IAC's questions and the IAC had told her she had to
answer and could not be fired for doing so. As to the emails,
Parker declared the only ones she did not answer were either
spam or UPS notifications requiring no action. At the end of
the meeting, Bright fired Parker. Parker testified Jay Moore,
Beta Club's technology director, later informed her he
had repeatedly told Bright the only emails she had not
responded to were spam.
sued Beta Club for breach of contract and breach of contract
accompanied by a fraudulent act. A jury awarded her $518,
006.00 in actual damages and $350, 000.00 in punitive
recognize Beta Club contested much of Parker's evidence.
In reviewing the denial of a directed verdict/JNOV motion,
however, we cannot weigh the evidence or pass on credibility;
our sole task is deciding whether, reviewing the record in
the light most favorable to Parker, any evidence reasonably
supports the jury's verdict. See Curcio v.
Caterpillar, Inc., 355 S.C. 316, 320, 585 S.E.2d 272,
jury's verdict carried with it an implicit finding that
Beta Club's promise to Parker that she could not be fired
for answering the IAC's questions altered her at-will
employment, creating a contract that was breached when Bright
fired her for that very reason. Beta Club has not appealed
the verdict that it breached Parker's contract. Instead,
it contends the evidence was insufficient to enable the jury
to find the breach of contract was accompanied by a
fraudulent act, on which the punitive damages award depends.
cases going back to 1904, Judge Bell summarized what proof
entitles a party to recover punitive damages for breach of