(CN) – The Washington Court of Appeals upheld a $3 million verdict for a former Pierce County prosecutor whose boss defamed her in the press by telling reporters that she was the subject of a “pending criminal investigation.”
Barbara Corey worked in the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for 20 years and was the third-highest ranking deputy prosecutor in the county until she recommended that a colleague be transferred out of her unit.
Corey claimed that her boss, prosecuting attorney Gerry Horne, asked her to break the news to the worker and put a positive spin on it.
Horne said he lost confidence in Corey after she lied to the worker about why he was being transferred. Horne then rescinded the transfer and told Corey to resign or be fired. She resigned.
The focus then shifted to some money that one of Horne’s employees found in Corey’s desk. Corey had collected the funds for a colleague with a sick child, but didn’t buy the gifts until after she resigned.
Corey sued Horne and the prosecutor’s office for wrongful termination and defamation. She said Horne leaked to the Tacoma News Tribune that there was an internal investigation into missing funds involving Corey.
In one article, Horne said Corey “told several lies” regarding the employee’s transfer and was subject to a “pending criminal investigation into whether money was mishandled in his office.”
Corey said the article devastated her. She said she became depressed and suicidal, and experienced an onset of epileptic seizures.
The trial court awarded Corey $3 million, and the state appeals court upheld the judgment.
“Corey presented evidence that Horne knew by the end of February that the internal investigation had not revealed actionable improper conduct,” Judge Marlin Appelwick wrote. “Evidence showed that the investigator believed the investigator was not viable. Yet, Horne’s statements to the TNT were published … after the investigation had proven fruitless.”