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Terminated South Carolina Wardens Awarded a Total of $882,000

On December 22, 2010, the South Carolina Court of Appeals upheld a $372,000 verdict in favor of a prison warden who was wrongfully terminated by the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC).

In 2002, SCDC Investigator Karen Hair was assigned to the Lee Correctional Institution (LCI). Hair did not get along with several employees, including associate warden Henry Pridgen. SCDC Director of Operations Robert Ward and Inspector General Charles Sheppard met with Pridgen several times concerning Hair.

LCI warden Calvin Anthony also met with Ward about problems between Pridgen and Hair; Anthony claimed that Ward told him it was a fight he could not win.

In October 2003, Ward, Sheppard and Hair responded to a hostage situation at LCI. Pridgen claimed that “Ward and Sheppard were dissatisfied with the performance of Laurie Bessinger,” SCDC’s Director of Training and Security. Ward told him that “he had problems with Bessinger and if Pridgen told anyone he would call Pridgen a liar.” According to Anthony, “Ward wanted Pridgen to provide false and derogatory information about Bessinger in the After Action Report he was compiling about the hostage situation”; however, Pridgen refused to cooperate.

In January 2004, Ward authorized a shakedown at LCI. Contrary to usual practice, Anthony and Pridgen were not given prior notice of the shakedown. Ward and Hair inspected the boiler room and found “a number of unauthorized items including computers, software, cameras, bulk food items, and an electric frying utensil,” wrote Sheppard. He also claimed prisoners “had been allowed in the boiler room unsupervised” and “had access to the Internet.” The investigation further found that a prisoner had possessed security keys on previous occasions.

Pridgen was charged with gross misconduct and intentional improper behavior following the shakedown. He was suspended and then transferred to another facility. Investigators also removed files from Pridgen’s office, including a file he kept on Hair that contained “complaints Pridgen received from other employees about Hair, and the notes Pridgen took during his meetings with Sheppard and Ward.... Sheppard was upset Pridgen kept a file on Hair and told Pridgen he would find a way to have him fired.”

Pridgen was terminated on May 24, 2004. The following month Anthony was accused of gross negligence and falsifying documents in connection with the shakedown at LCI; he retired in lieu of being fired.

Pridgen sued Ward, Sheppard and Hair in state court, alleging they had conspired to terminate him for not cooperating with them against Bessinger.

A jury returned a verdict in favor of Pridgen and awarded him $372,000. The trial court then denied the defendants’ post-trial motions for a directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

On December 22, 2010, the South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of the defendants’ post-trial motions. See: Pridgen v. Ward, 391 S.C. 238, 705 S.E.2d 58 (S.C. App. 2010), rehearing denied.

In a separate action, Anthony sued Ward, Sheppard and SCDC in federal court alleging civil conspiracy and racial discrimination under Title VII. He was awarded $510,000, which was upheld on appeal by the Fourth Circuit. See: Anthony v. Ward, 336 Fed.Appx. 311 (4th Cir. 2009).

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Related legal cases

Pridgen v. Ward

Anthony v. Ward