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A jet engine parts manufacturer and three company managers were slapped with a $4.7 million default judgment this month after failing to answer a Georgia man’s slander suit. Plaintiff Nathaniel Sanks had sued his former employer, PCC Airfoils Inc., asubsidiary of Portland, Ore.-based Precision Castparts Corp., and threeofficials from its Douglas, Ga., plant over his 1999 firing for “stealing time” from the company. Not only was the claim false, Sanks’ suit said, but word of it spread aroundCoffee County, including to members of the church where Sanks served as pastor, damaging his reputation and keeping him from getting another job. Neither the company nor the three officials answered Sanks’ complaint, filed Sept. 4. Their lapse proved costly. Fulton County State Court Judge Penny Brown Reynolds, after a bench trial on damages, entered a default judgment against the four defendants for $4.7 million — $700,000 in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages. Sanks v. PCC Airfoils, No. 01VS022235A (Fult. St. March 8, 2002). The defendants filed a notice of appeal this week. PCC Airfoil’s lawyers at the Macon, Ga., office of Constangy, Brooks & Smith referred questions to one of the company’s new attorneys, Teresa Roseborough of Washington, D.C.-based Sutherland Asbill & Brennan. Calls to Roseborough were not returned. One of the three winning plaintiffs’ lawyers, Hardy Gregory Jr. of Gregory Christy & Maniklal in Cordele, Ga., said his side was a bit disappointed by the verdict. “We were asking for $20 million in punitive damages,” Gregory said. Gregory, a former Georgia Supreme Court justice, handled the case with Summerville attorney Bobby Lee Cook of Cook & Connelly and Fitzgerald lawyer Ben B. Mills Jr. of Mills & Chasteen. Cook said the accusations against Sanks were “nothing but a complete, absolute, unequivocal lie.” The defendants laughed throughout the damages trial, Cook said. “They were the most arrogant group of people I have ever seen,” he said. “I thought they got what was coming to them.” ACCUSED OF ‘STEALING TIME’ Sanks, according to Reynolds’ findings of fact, had worked at PCC’s Douglas plant, which makes rotating blades for jet engines, for more than 17 years. His latest position there was as coordinator of purchasing. He occasionally would use his own vehicle to pick up supplies during his lunch break. As a salaried employee, he was not required to log in or out of his job or punch a time clock. Sanks was fired Nov. 12, 1999, for allegedly stealing time. He said that he was told he was cheating on his time by failing to work a full eight-hour day and instead putting in just about 7 1/2 hours a day. His suit claimed that three company managers — Pete Peterman, Randy Sommers and Tom Marshall — orchestrated his firing because they believed he had risen too high in the company ranks, despite his own supervisor’s satisfaction with his job performance. Peterman was the plant manager, Sommers was its materials manager, and Marshall was its human resources manager, according to Gregory, who said all three are still employed by PCC. Gregory said the firing had “some racial overtones,” since Sanks is black and the three officials are white. However, Reynolds’ order makes no mention of any racist motivations. Sanks first filed suit Nov. 8, 2000, but dismissed that case March 5, 2001. He refiled the case against the same defendants Sept. 4, 2001. None of the defendants answered the complaint. A default judgment as to liability was entered Dec. 7, 2001. The defendants filed a motion to open the default Dec. 26, 2001, but after a hearing, Reynolds denied the motion Jan. 10. Peterman, Reynolds said in her order, admitted that he was served with the complaint, but testified that he did nothing because he thought the documents were part of the earlier dismissed case. The two other individual defendants disputed that they had been properly served, but two Coffee County sheriff’s deputies testified to the contrary. Reynolds found all three individual defendants had been properly served. As for the company, Reynolds found that its registered agent, CT Corporation, was served Sept. 4, 2001, with a summons and complaint. PCC argued that, at some point, as the documents made their way to the proper officials at CT, the summons and complaint became detached from the cover page. That meant that all PCC received was a cover sheet. Reynolds declined to open the default, finding that PCC was properly served. DAMAGES EXAMINED The same day as the hearing on opening the default, both sides presented evidence to Reynolds on the issue of damages. According to Reynolds’ order, Marshall testified that even though he and the other two officials were wrong about what they said about Sanks, they had never apologized to him. Marshall said no apology was due to Sanks. Gregory said the false claims spread to the church where Sanks was a pastor, the Pentecostal Holiness Church. Sanks, he said, “had to take the pulpit and explain” that the allegations were not true. The defendants’ slander also took its toll on the church, according to Gregory, who said, “The congregation fell off in numbers.” Sanks still has been unable to find a job in Coffee County, Gregory said. Reynolds found that the defendants’ claims about Sanks were false and he was entitled to $700,000 in compensatory damages for his “substantially damaged” reputation. She noted that Sanks “has been put in an untenable position with regard to Plaintiff’s church and Plaintiff’s ability to serve as a Pastor.” Reynolds also found that, in this case, punitive damages could exceed the normal $250,000 cap because the defendants acted with the specific intent to harm Sanks. In determining punitive damages, a corporation’s net worth is admissible. Reynolds noted that PCC’s highest executives made close to $1 million a year, and that the company, which ratified the three managers’ actions, has a “significant net worth.” All four defendants had shown a “pattern of egregious conduct,” Reynolds said, that justified an award of $4 million in punitive damages. Reynolds’ order does not indicate how she arrived at the figures for either compensatory or punitive damages.

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