Law School Case Brief
Trt Dev. Co.-Kc v. Meyers - 15 S.W.3d 281 (Tex. App. 2000)
Slanderous statements are conditionally or qualifiedly privileged and therefore not actionable when made in good faith on any subject matter in which the author has an interest, or with reference to which he has a duty to perform to another person having a corresponding interest or duty. An interest giving rise to a qualified privilege may be that of the publisher of the communication, the recipient of the communication, or a third person.
Valero Refining Company held its annual family day picnic and golf tournament at the Kings Crossing Golf and Country Club located in Corpus Christi. Mark Meyers, an employee of Valero, played in the tournament with a group of three other Valero employees. After the tournament Meyers went into the Kings Crossing pro shop and gave his score card to Chad Salerno and Mark McCarthy, both of whom worked in the pro shop. Meyers stayed in the pro shop to look at the merchandise, and Salerno went to the pool area. Salerno returned about 20 minutes later and saw that Meyers was still in the pro shop, standing behind a display rack. About five minutes later Salerno walked towards Meyers and noticed that he had bulges in the pockets of his shorts. When Meyers first entered the pro shop Salerno did not recall seeing anything in his pockets. As Salerno approached, Meyers turned, walked away, and left the pro shop. As Meyers was leaving Salerno heard hangers rattling where Meyers had been standing. After Salerno found some empty shirt hangers where Meyers had been standing he and McCarthy followed Meyers to his truck, which was parked in the parking lot. McCarthy testified that when he followed Meyers into the parking lot Meyers "had his hands kind of cupped around his shorts, holding them up, and they were bulging out." While Meyers was in his truck Salerno and McCarthy asked him if they could see what was in his pockets. Meyers ignored them and closed the door. He backed up without removing the sun screen from his windshield and drove away. After Meyers' departure Salerno discovered his name by questioning the three persons who had played golf in the same group with Meyers that day. Shortly thereafter the pro shop employees reported Meyers' behavior to Wynn Chapman, the general manager of Kings Crossing. In this conversation Meyers was accused of theft. Chapman told a Valero manager, Grimes, about the incident and Meyers' behavior. Meyers was then suspended for 10 days without pay, related to his drinking and loud behavior on the golf course. Eventually, Meyers was later fired and he sued the employers for tortious interference with his employment contract and for defamation. At trial the jury awarding Meyers lost wages and holding the employers liable for defamation. The employers challenged the judgment finding them liable for defamation challenging the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence to support the verdict.
Should the employers be held liable for defamation?
The court held that the evidence showed that Meyers was not fired because of the alleged theft charges. The evidence did not establish that the complaint about the missing shirts proximately caused any damages to him. Moreover, the court held that the "defamatory" statements regarding the alleged theft were protected by qualified privilege not overcome by actual malice. Thus, the judgment was reversed and judgment rendered that Meyers take nothing in his suit.
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