South Carolina Workers’ Comp Exclusivity Doesn’t Bar Invasion of Privacy

April 16, 2008

A South Carolina workers’ compensation exclusivity statute did not bar an employee from filing claims for invasion of privacy and false imprisonment in a psychiatric hospital, according to a U.S. District Court ruling.

In the case background, U.S. District Judge Henry M. Herlong Jr. wrote that Jackie Frasier, a 14-year employee of Verizon Wireless, revealed personal emotional problems to one of her superiors on May 22, 2007.

As a result of Frasier’s conversation with Iris Wright-Johnson, Frasier said Wright had her committed to a psychiatric hospital, where Frasier says she was falsely imprisoned for more than a week.

Frasier said the matter was exacerbated during her confinement when other Verizon employees who were also hospitalized at the same facility recognized her, causing “great humiliation and embarrassment.”

Finally, according to Frasier, Verizon Wireless fired her on June 7, 2007, based “on the false ground of ‘self admission of being under the influences of illegal substances while at work.'”

Frasier said Verizon violated the terms of its code of conduct, prompting her to levy claims against the employer for breach of contract, breach of contract accompanied by a fraudulent act, false imprisonment, invasion of privacy, and defamation.

While the South Carolina Supreme Court has not ruled on the issue regarding claims of invasion of privacy and false imprisonment, U.S. District Judge Henry M. Herlong Jr. wrote that other jurisdictions have included these claims among those harms which don’t qualify as compensable injuries under a state’s Worker’s Compensation Act. Therefore, the court ruled that Frasier’s invasion of privacy and false imprisonment claims are not barred by the exclusivity provision of the South Carolina Worker’s Compensation Act, Herlong wrote in the ruling.

Frasier’s claims for defamation, breach of contract and breach of contract accompanied by a fraudulent act were not supported by the court.

Source: U.S. District Court, Anderson, South Carolina Division

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