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Law School Case Brief

Agis v. Howard Johnson Co. - 371 Mass. 140, 355 N.E.2d 315 (1976)


One who, by extreme and outrageous conduct and without privilege, causes severe emotional distress to another is subject to liability for such emotional distress even though no bodily harm may result. However, in order for a plaintiff to prevail in a case for liability under intentional infliction of emotional distress, four elements must be established. It must be shown (1) that the actor intended to inflict emotional distress or that he knew or should have known that emotional distress was the likely result of his conduct; (2) that the conduct was extreme and outrageous, was beyond all possible bounds of decency, and was utterly intolerable in a civilized community; (3) that the actions of the defendant were the cause of the plaintiff's distress; and (4) that the emotional distress sustained by the plaintiff was severe and of a nature that no reasonable man could be expected to endure it.


After an employee was fired from her job as a waitress, she and her husband brought actions against her employer and manager. The manager held a meeting with the waitresses at which he said that someone was stealing from the restaurant and until the identity of that person could be established, he would begin firing all the waitresses in alphabetical order, and that the manager then summarily dismissed the employee solely because her name began with the letter "A." The employee sought to recover damages for infliction of mental anguish and emotional distress due to the employee's termination. The husband alleged loss of consortium and loss of the services, love, affection, and companionship of his wife. The trial court dismissed their complaints.


Was it proper for the court to dismiss their complaints?




The supreme judicial court reversed the dismissal of the complaints. The court held that the employee had stated a cause of action for emotional distress even though no bodily harm resulted from her termination. The court found that the employee alleged facts and circumstances concerning her dismissal that reasonably could lead the trier of fact to conclude that her manager's conduct was extreme and outrageous and that it had a severe and traumatic effect upon the employee's emotional tranquility. It was for the jury to decide whether the employee could prove the elements of infliction of emotional distress. The court also held that the employee's husband had a cause of action for loss of consortium even though no physical injury resulted. The court found that intentional invasions of the marriage relationship gave rise to such cause of action.

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