Greer Woman Wins Lawsuit Against Target
Woman Awarded $3 Million
UPDATED: 11:00 am EDT October 24, 2008
GREENVILLE, S.C. -- A federal jury has awarded a South Carolina woman more than $3 million from Target Corp. for distributing information that wrongly accused her of to trying to pay with counterfeit money.
The Greenville News reported Friday that Rita Cantrell of Greer won her defamation case after a three-day trial in federal court.
Cantrell said a Target employee distributed an e-mail warning stores of her after she tried to buy items at Target with a $100 bill. The e-mail led the U.S. Secret Service to question her at her job.
The lawsuit said agents determined there was nothing wrong with the bill.
Target denied wrongdoing and said the e-mail was "made in good faith."
The jury awarded Cantrell $100,000 in actual damages and $3 million in punitive.
A spokesman at Target's corporate headquarters did not immediately return a phone call from the Associated Press seeking comment on Friday.
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Jury orders Target to pay $3 million in civil case
By Eric Connor • STAFF WRITER Greenvilleonline.com • October 23, 2008
The jury ruled in favor of Rita Cantrell following a three-day civil trial in U.S. District court in Greenville, according to a judgment filed Thursday.
In 2006, Cantrell brought a civil defamation lawsuit against Target alleging libel and negligence.
The suit alleged that a Target loss-prevention employee was responsible for an email distributed to dozens of other businesses and law enforcement agencies that warned them to be on the lookout for her after she tried to buy items from two Target stores with a legitimate $100 bill, according to a complaint filed in Greenville federal court.
In its answer to the complaint, Target denied wrongdoing and said that the email communication was "made in good faith." The email led the U.S. Secret Service to question Cantrell while she was at work at a Belk’s department store in Greenville, where she was employed in the store’s loss-prevention department, the complaint alleged. Agents reviewed the bill -- which was an older, 1974 series $100 bill -- and determined she had done nothing wrong, according to the complaint.
The jury awarded Cantrell $100,000 in actual damages and penalized Target with $3 million in punitive damages, according to the judgment. The lead attorney for Target, Knox Haynsworth, referred questions about the judgment to Target’s corporate office Thursday.
The office couldn’t be reached to comment. In its answer, Target says that its employee sent the email only to a loss-prevention employee at another department store and who also served as theft task force’s communication liaison. In February 2006, Cantrell was a customer at Target’s locations on Woodruff Road and Wade Hampton Boulevard and was questioned at each location by employees when she tried to pay for merchandise with a $100 bill, which was rejected because it was a 1974 series bill, the complaint alleges. A loss-prevention employee for Target composed an email that was distributed to a group known as the Carolina Organized Retail Theft Task Force, according to the complaint.
The employee’s email -- the contents of which included images of Cantrell shopping and allegations that she had tried to pass a counterfeit bill and had shoplifted -- was sent to 31 members of the group, according to the complaint.
Members included local, state and federal law enforcement offices, malls, department stores, home-improvement stores and grocery stores, the complaint alleged. The Secret Service went to Cantrell’s work and subjected her to a "custodial interrogation," but after looking at the $100, determined the bill was genuine and cleared her of any criminal activity, the complaint alleged. Following the interview, Cantrell was provided a copy of the email, according to the complaint. "Every aspect of Rita’s life was harmed by Target," said Bozzie Boggs, a Greenville attorney who helped represent Cantrell during the trial.