Copyright 2017 The Post and Courier
All Rights Reserved
Post & Courier (Charleston, SC)
A Berkeley County jury awarded a former Berkeley High School football coach $200,000 in his lawsuit against the school district, according to officials.
Jeff Cruce filed a wrongful termination and defamation lawsuit in January against Berkeley County School District claiming he was fired on Dec. 16, 2015 for not making his players hit more in practice.
The district said Cruce was fired as coach and athletic director because he failed to meet performance goals and because booster club membership was declining.
The jury awarded the money after deliberating for about six hours Thursday. Circuit Judge Kristi Herrington threw out the wrongful termination charge, but the defamation charge remained.
The district plans to appeal the verdict, according to school board Chairwoman Sally Wofford.
"No matter what, we support the decision of our principal to make decisions in the best interest of our students and school," she said. "We are also pleased with the judge's decision dismissing Mr. Cruce's wrongful termination suit but are disappointed with the jury's award for defamation related to a simple and innocent email."
The district declined to provide the email, which is part of the public record, because it has been ruled defamatory, and Berkeley courts were closed Friday. Cruce's lawyers, Nancy Bloodgood and Lucy Sanders, did not immediately return calls and emails.
The school's athletic trainer sent an email to many of Cruce's coworkers and subordinates implying that the coach had not properly maintained student athletic files, according to the lawsuit.
The email said, in part, "After spending some time looking through files it has come to my attention that there could be some documents that could be misplaced and others that are out of order."
Cruce's suit said district officials made "false and defamatory statements" about him to employees, students, volunteers, potential employers and members of the community "with conscious indifference to and complete disregard of the truth." The statements have damaged Cruce's reputation.
He has suffered "psychological harm, emotional distress, anxiety, pain and suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, embarrassment, humiliation, physical injuries, and injury to his personal and professional reputation," according to the suit.
Cruce coached at Berkeley for five seasons, winning a regional championship in 2014, and he had worked for the school district since 1991. He was a popular coach whose teams won 11 region championships, including 10 in a row while he was at Hanahan High, officials said.
He was fired after the Stags went 3-7 during a season in which Cruce made headlines for his philosophy of not punting on fourth down.
He was transferred to a position as a middle school guidance counselor and left the district in the summer of 2016, according to district officials.
Read More of Today's AB Headlines
Subscribe to Our Daily E-Newsletter