Wednesday, May 21, 2014
A Knightsville Elementary educator has received a $1 million verdict after bringing a civil suit against Dorchester County School District Two.
Former teacher and assistant principal Mary Rita Watson alleged the district did irreparable damage to her reputation by demoting her in the wake of a child abuse case. Watson was charged with failure to report in 2009, but was later cleared of the charge.
In 2012, she filed suit against the district.
She alleged the school district and the sheriff’s office knew there was no basis for a criminal prosecution but forged ahead to mollify two parents in powerful positions.
“I am relieved and appreciate that someone finally listened to my story,” Mary Rita Watson said in a prepared statement.
Attorney Gregg Meyers of Jeff Anderson and Associates represented Watson in a civil lawsuit against the school district alleging abuse of process, and released a statement about the verdict Wednesday.
Meyers argued that Watson is the primary provider for her family of five children and after being charged with the crime of failing to report child abuse, she was unable to find a job and was 10 years from retirement.
District officials have not yet commented on the decision.
Meyers said Watson has applied for numerous administrative positions both within and outside the district. “They just choose not to hire her because of (the charge),” he said. “It’s really hampered her ability even to find another job,” he said.
The civil suit sought back pay, reinstatement to a comparable position and special damages to compensate for the “humiliation of being paraded before the news cameras.”
In South Carolina, state law caps damages at $300,000 but Meyers asked the jury for $1 million to make it clear to the school district that their actions were “unacceptable.” The jury agreed and after an hour-long deliberation returned a $1-million verdict in Watson’s favor.
“We appreciate the jury was very clear on telling the district they cannot treat their employees that way,” Meyers said in the statement.