McGill v. University of South Carolina, 23715

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Citation423 S.E.2d 109,310 S.C. 224
Decision Date01 June 1992
Docket NumberNo. 23715,23715
Parties, 7 IER Cases 1496 Helen McGILL, Respondent/Appellant, v. The UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA, Appellant/Respondent. . Heard

William L. Pope and Kelly E. Shackelford, Pope & Rodgers, Columbia, for appellant, respondent.

J. Lewis Cromer, Cromer & Mabry, Columbia, for respondent, appellant.

CHANDLER, Justice:

These cross-appeals involve the recently enacted South Carolina Whistleblower's Act, 1 pursuant to which a jury awarded Respondent/Appellant, Helen McGill (McGill), a $350,000 verdict against Appellant/Respondent, University of South Carolina (USC).

Trial court denied USC's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) but, applying the statutory cap of the South Carolina Tort Claims Act, 2 reduced the verdict to $250,000.

We affirm in part, reverse in part.


McGill was hired on April 3, 1989, as USC's Hazardous Waste Manager, responsible for storage and disposal of chemical wastes. In July and August, 1989, she reported to various governmental agencies, including Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and the USC Legal Department, what she believed to be violations of DHEC regulations.

On October 2, 1989, one day prior to her achieving the status of full-time employee, McGill was terminated by USC's Associate Provost for "gross negligence and insubordination."

Her subsequent Whistleblower suit resulted in a $350,000 jury verdict which was reduced by the trial court to $250,000. McGill was also awarded $86,000 costs and attorney's fees. Both parties appeal.


Although numerous issues are raised, we address only

(1) whether USC was entitled to a directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV);

(2) whether the $250,000 statutory cap of the Tort Claims Act applies to Whistleblower actions.


USC contends that its motions for directed verdict and JNOV should have been granted on two grounds: (1) that the evidence conclusively establishes that the sole reason for her discharge was McGill's own negligence and insubordination, and not her whistleblowing, and (2) that McGill failed to prove any actual violation of the Whistleblower Act. We disagree.

It is elementary that, in ruling on motions for directed verdict and JNOV, the trial court must view the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Holtzscheiter v. Thomson Newspapers, Inc., --- S.C. ----, 411 S.E.2d 664 (1991); Santee Portland Cement v. Daniel International Corp., 299 S.C. 269, 384 S.E.2d 693 (1989).

The Whistleblower Act, § 8-27-10, et seq., inhibits a public body from discharging, disciplining, punishing, or otherwise threatening an employee "whenever the employee reports a violation of any state or federal law or regulation," or "whenever the employee exposes governmental criminality, ... waste, fraud, gross negligence or mismanagement." S.C.Code Ann § 8-27-20 (Cum.Supp.1991).

Section 8-27-30(A) of the Act creates a presumption of wrongful treatment when an employee is terminated, disciplined or otherwise punished within one year of having reported a violation of any state or federal law or regulation. The presumption is rebuttable with the burden on the defendant to demonstrate that the discharge or discipline was unrelated to plaintiff's whistleblowing. S.C.Code § 8-27-30(B). The statute affords certain affirmative defenses which USC concedes are inapplicable here; section 8-27-40 allows the public body to discharge an employee for causes independent of whistleblowing.

Adverting to the record, it is patently clear that disputed testimony and other evidence was presented from which factual determinations were reached. These determinations were solely for the jury who heard, weighed and evaluated the evidence, including the witnesses and the credibility of their testimony. "We are not at liberty to pass upon the veracity of witnesses and determine the case according to what we think is the weight of the evidence." Graham v. Whitaker, 282 S.C. 393, 398, 321 S.E.2d 40, 43 (1984). Trial court properly denied USC's motions for directed verdict and JNOV; to have done otherwise would have invaded the exclusive province of the jury.

We next address USC's contention that the Whistleblower Statute requires a plaintiff prove the existence of an actual violation. This contention is without merit.

The statute requires only that the employee not report or testify to an alleged violation "without probable cause." The discharge of an employee who, in good faith, reports a suspected violation constitutes retaliation for which the statute provides a remedy.

We accord with courts of other jurisdictions which hold that good faith whistleblowing and good faith refusal to follow malevolent instructions are protected from retaliation. See, e.g., Pilcher v. Commissioners of Wyandotte County, 14 Kan.App.2d 206, 787 P.2d 1204 (1990); Tyrna v. Adamo, Inc., 159 Mich.App. 592, 407 N.W.2d 47 (1987); Lanes v. O'Brien, 746 P.2d 1366 (Colo.App.1987); Phipps v. Clark Oil & Refining Corp., 408 N.W.2d 569 (Minn.1987).


Trial court, applying the $250,000 statutory cap of the Tort Claims Act, reduced the jury's $350,000 verdict. This was error.

Section 15-78-120(a) of the Tort Claims Act limits liability of any governmental agency to $250,000 "for any action or claim for damages brought under the provisions of this chapter." On its face, the $250,000 Tort Claims limitation is irrelevant to an action instituted pursuant to the Whistleblower Statute.

"[I]n construing a statute its words must be given their plain and ordinary meaning without resort to subtle or forced construction to limit or expand the statute's operation." Bryant v. City of Charleston, 295 S.C. 408, 411, 368 S.E.2d 899, 900-901 (1988). There is no language in the Tort Claims Act to indicate or infer that its statutory cap...

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8 cases
  • Introini v. South Carolina Nat. Guard, Civ. A. No. 8:93-1252-3.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • 29 Julio 1993
    ...Act does not apply to claims asserted under the South Carolina Whistleblower Act, McGill v. University of South Carolina, ___ S.C. ___, 423 S.E.2d 109, 111 (1992), Introini has not pointed to any language in the Whistleblower Act or elsewhere in the statutory law of South Carolina which "sp......
  • Gastineau v. Murphy, 2517
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 7 Mayo 1996
    ...the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." McGill v. University of South Carolina, 310 S.C. 224, 226, 423 S.E.2d 109, 111 (1992). "If the evidence yields more than one inference, the motion for directed verdict should be denied." Garrett......
  • Town of Duncan v. State Budget and Control Bd., Div. of Ins. Services, 24584
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 21 Noviembre 1996
    ...correctly found that the Tort Claims Act does not address actions under the Whistleblower Act. See McGill v. University of South Carolina, 310 S.C. 224, 423 S.E.2d 109 (1992). However, this does not resolve the issue at hand, that being whether the tort liability policy Board issued in this......
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 29 Enero 2001 Brady Dev. Co. v. Town of Hilton Head Island, 312 S.C. 73, 78, 439 S.E.2d 266, 269 (1993); McGill v. Univ. of South Carolina, 310 S.C. 224, 226, 423 S.E.2d 109, 111 (1992). A directed verdict or judgment notwithstanding the verdict should not be granted unless only one reasonable inf......
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