Wrongful termination suit yields $8M verdict
Second case pending against Surge Staffing
PARKERSBURG — A Wood County jury awarded a woman $8 million in punitive damages this week in a lawsuit alleging she was fired for refusing to falsify documents pertaining to the citizenship of employees in an out-of-state office.
Washington County resident Lori Shultz filed the suit against Surge Staffing LLC, which operates in a number of states, in November 2017. That’s two months after she was terminated as manager of the company’s Parkersburg branch, located in Vienna.
In the suit, Shultz and her attorneys claim she was fired after refusing a company executive’s request “to falsely verify” on federal forms, known as I9s, that multiple employees in Surge’s Chicago office “were not unauthorized aliens.”
In its response, Surge denies those allegations, as well as Shultz’s assertion that she “performed her job duties in an exemplary manner.”
The trial began on Oct. 28, with testimony continuing through Monday of this week. On Tuesday, the six-member jury heard closing arguments and returned with a verdict in Shultz’s favor.
According to court documents, the jury awarded Shultz $340,000 for emotional distress, $75,000 for humiliation and $10,000 in back pay, along with assessing $8 million in punitive damages against Surge Staffing.
Parkersburg attorney Walt Auvil called the award “astounding.”
“As far as I know, it’s the largest employment verdict in West Virginia,” he said. “To have that in Wood County, as conservative as the juries in Wood County tend to be, that’s amazing.”
Besides his specialty in employment law, Auvil had an interest in the case because he is representing another ex-Surge employee in a lawsuit that raises similar issues.
According to that complaint, Auvil’s client, Susan Cross, was asked to process I9 forms for an employer in Illinois with which Surge Staffing works. The complaint says a number of the workers had incorrect or duplicate Social Security numbers, which precluded her from legally processing the documents. The suit also alleges other fraudulent manipulation of data requested or performed by the company.
The complaint says Cross was fired in February 2018 for refusing to falsify the I9 forms in 2017.
Surge’s response denies the allegations, saying Cross was terminated because of the performance of the Parkersburg branch, something for which Cross’ complaint says she was not responsible.
That suit was filed in May in Wood County Circuit Court but was moved to U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia at the request of Surge. Auvil said it is set for trial about a year from now.
Surge’s attorney, Constance Weber, did not return messages seeking comment on the cases.
Evan Bevins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.