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4th Circuit Affirms Jury Award To Warden

Published by on July 14, 2009

In Anthony v. Ward, the Fourth Circuit affirmed a jury award of $510,000 to plaintiff Calvin Anthony, former warden of Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina.  The judgment by the federal district court found defendants Robert Ward and Charles Sheppard, officials of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC), guilty of civil conspiracy under South […]

In Anthony v. Ward, the Fourth Circuit affirmed a jury award of $510,000 to plaintiff Calvin Anthony, former warden of Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina.  The judgment by the federal district court found defendants Robert Ward and Charles Sheppard, officials of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC), guilty of civil conspiracy under South Carolina law.  On appeal, the Fourth Circuit upheld the judgment, finding that the defendants conspired to force Anthony’s termination.  More after the break.

The facts revealed that Anthony was an excellent warden at Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison, from 1999 until 2004.  He received many favorable reviews and was named Warden of the Year in 2002.  In that same year, defendant Ward became his supervisor.  He did not receive any evaluations from that point onwards.  The defendants’ dislike of plaintiff stemmed from two separate incidents involving Anthony’s input as the warden of Lee.

The first incident involved a hostage situation at Lee in late October 2003.  Laurie Bessinger worked as the Director of Security and Training at SCDC.  Bessinger was passed over for the position of Director of Operations, currently held by Ward.  At once, Bessinger had a bad relationship with Sheppard, his direct supervisor.  Both defendants criticized Bessinger’s handling of the hostage incident and even suggested his termination.  Anthony submitted a draft report to Ward, detailing the events that transpired on the night of the hostage situation.  After reading Anthony’s report, Ward asked Anthony to blackmail Bessinger in the report by adding negative and untrue details.  Anthony refused and his relationship with Ward changed.

The second incident involved Anthony and Sheppard, the co-defendant.  There was a surprise inspection (“shakedown”) of the Kershaw Correctional Institution, where Rickie Harrison (an African-American) was employed as warden.  In Harrison’s eighteen years of experience, this was the only shakedown he experienced without a prior notification.  Sheppard directly participated in the inspection and after interviewing Harrison, recommended his termination.  Following Harrison’s demotion, Sheppard chose to act both as the lead investigator in the Harrison grievance and the lawyer for the SCDC at the grievance hearing.  Sheppard subpoenaed Anthony for testimony at the grievance hearing, but declined to call Anthony as a witness because Anthony believed Harrison was the victim of racial discrimination.

These relationships appeared to factor into an unannounced shakedown of the Lee Correctional Institution, where Anthony worked as warden.  From the early months of 2003 until the shakedown in January 2004, Sheppard employed an investigator who reported directly to him from Lee.  Anthony was not made aware of the nature of the investigator’s duties.  As part of the unannounced shakedown, the boiler room at Lee was inspected. Ward participated directly in the inspection.  Sheppard and Ward classified as contraband, items found in the boiler room, including computer parts, bulk food items, and televisions.  They also noted other “irregularities” including inmates working without supervision, possible access to outside phone lines and the internet, as well as video surveillance of entry and exit from the boiler room.

Anthony inspected the boiler room regularly and was separated from the daily boiler room activities by four levels of supervision below him.  In the past, he was never linked to problems in the boiler room.  Furthermore, memoranda posted on the boiler room walls authorized inmates to work in the room with minimal supervision in circumstances requiring the officer to attend to business outside the room.

A June 2004 letter from his direct supervisor charged Anthony with gross negligence and falsification of documents.  These allegations surfaced in spite of assurances from Ward that Anthony was clear of any wrongdoing.  After pleading his case with Ward, Sheppard, and his supervisor, Anthony was informed that if he had not previously pursued the early retirement option in April 2004, he would have faced outright termination.

These facts led Anthony to file an action with the federal district court of South Carolina alleging that Ward and Sheppard conspired to force him out of his job at Lee.  After trial, the jury returned a verdict in SCDC’s favor on the Title VII discrimination claim and in Anthony’s favor on the civil conspiracy claim.  The jury awarded $510,000 in damages to Anthony and against Ward and Sheppard in their individual capacities.

On appeal to the Fourth Circuit, the court found sufficient evidence was presented for the jury to find that defendants conspired to bring about the forced retirement of Anthony.  The court opinion noted three important facts.  First, Sheppard deviated from Department custom by personally serving as both investigator and lawyer in Harrison’s grievance hearing.  Second, Ward admitted deviating from SCDC policy by failing to inform Anthony of the inspection at Lee and participating directly in it.  Third, SCDC’s Human Resources Director and Warden Harrison each testified that neither had seen a warden terminated for an inspection-related issue, failure to make inspections, or contraband found in an institution (absent the warden’s direct involvement).

These three factors are a stark reminder to employers of the important of following existing policies and applying them consistenly.

Contributed by K.C. Osuji

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