MONCKS CORNER, SC (WCSC) - Former Berkeley High School head football coach and athletic director Jeff Cruce was awarded a verdict of $200,000 dollars on Thursday from his claim of defamation against the Berkeley County School District, his attorney said.
Cruce, who was let go from Berkeley in December of 2015 and filed the lawsuit in January of 2016, had also sued the district for wrongful termination, however, the District filed a motion for a directed verdict on that claim which was granted by the judge.
The jury stayed out for more than six hours before returning a verdict in Cruce's favor and awarding him the sum of $200,000, Cruce's attorney, Nancy Bloodgood, said.
In a statement, BCSD has indicated they will fight the jury's decision to award Cruce money.
"No matter what, we support the decision of our principal to make decisions in the best interest of our students and school." Berkeley County Board of Education Chair Sally Wofford said in a statement. "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. We plan to challenge this verdict in post-trial motions and in an appeal, if necessary."
Cruce had been a head coach in the Lowcountry for 20 years at the time of his firing. He spent 13 years at Hanahan, then moved to Cane Bay for three seasons before spending his final five years with Berkeley.
At the time the lawsuit was filed, Cruce claimed he was wrongfully terminated for not making his players "hit" more during football practices and that agents of the school district made "false and defamatory statements" about his fitness for his profession to employees, students, volunteers, potential employers and members of the community.
Cruce's lawsuit claims he was terminated because Principal Steven Steele "did not approve of Coach Cruce's coaching philosophy which included less hitting during practice." Cruce also alleged a "strained" relationship with Steele from the start because of past incidents between the two dating back to when Steele was a track coach.