The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rovner, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Jennifer Jones ("Jones") filed a complaint against
defendant Britt Airways, Inc. ("Britt"), her former employer,
for libel and slander as a result of certain statements that
were made concerning her dismissal. Jones asserts that several
Britt employees made defamatory statements accusing her of
embezzling company funds. Jones alleges that, as a direct and
proximate result of the defamatory statements made by Britt
employees, she has suffered humiliation and embarrassment and
has been unable to secure further employment. She seeks
special damages for lost wages and an impaired credit rating,
as well as general damages for humiliation suffered.
Britt has moved for summary judgment on three grounds.
First, it contends that no defamatory statements were
published, asserting that a communication by one corporate
agent to another does not constitute publication, and any
defamatory remarks were made only amongst Britt employees.
Second, even if publication occurred, Britt argues that any
remarks made were subject to a qualified privilege which can
be overcome only by a showing of actual malice. Finally, Britt
contends that the remarks allegedly made can be innocently
construed and are not actionable.
Jones has also moved for leave to file a first amended
complaint which would add a count of negligence against Britt
for failure to investigate thoroughly the reasons for her
dismissal. Jones contends that Britt assumed a duty to
investigate when, in the course of a meeting with Jones
concerning the voided ticket that was the subject of her
dismissal, Britt employees told her that such an investigation
would be undertaken. As a result of its failure to complete
the promised investigation, Jones asserts that Britt is liable
to her in negligence.
For the reasons stated below, both Britt's motion for
summary judgment and Jones' motion for leave to amend her
complaint are denied.
When considering a motion for summary judgment, this Court
must construe the pleadings, depositions and affidavits most
strictly against the moving party and most liberally in favor
of the opponent. Trulson v. Trane Co., 738 F.2d 770 (7th Cir.
1984). The facts are therefore stated in a light most favorable
to the plaintiff.
Pursuant to a routine audit, Robert Mur-rell ("Murrell"),
Comptroller for Britt, initiated an investigation of several
suspect tickets issued on March 13, 1983 at the Britt station
at O'Hare Airport. The tickets had been marked "void,"
indicating that they had not been used and that no money had
been received. Other information revealed that the tickets had
been issued and actually used by passengers. The investigation
began on March 22, 1983, and was conducted by Murrell, by the
Director of Stations, Robert Pfrommer ("Pfrommer"), by the
Station Director, James Arble ("Arble"), and by the Assistant
Station Director, Brian Leahy ("Leahy"). Several Britt
employees were questioned concerning the tickets.
On March 24, 1983, Murrell, Pfrommer, Arble, and Leahy met
with Jones and questioned her about three tickets issued that
morning, all of which were subsequently determined to have
been properly voided. During that meeting, Jones initially
acknowledged that she might have written the word "void" on
another suspect ticket issued on March 13, but later denied
the writing. Murrell then placed Jones on suspension pending
an investigation, which he allegedly claimed might include
polygraph examinations and handwriting analysis. Jones told
Murrell she was willing to submit to a polygraph test and
expressed her wish to assist Britt in the investigation.
Jones contends that no such investigation was ever conducted
and she was never given a polygraph examination. The extent of
Britt's investigation consisted of a phone call made to Sherry
Confere, the passenger to whom the March 13 ticket had been
issued. Ms. Confere verified that she had used the ticket on
March 13, and she executed a statement to Britt to that
effect. On April 13, 1983, Arble sent Jones a letter stating
that she was terminated because the "discrepancies" that had
been brought to her attention had been "confirmed." Arble sent
copies of the letter to Murrell and Pfrommer.
Before and after she was terminated, Jones' attorney
requested information concerning both the investigation and
Jones' ultimate termination. He also reasserted Jones'
willingness to assist in the investigation. He received a
letter from Marilyn Britt, Assistant to the President,
confirming the reasons for Jones' suspension and termination.
The letter stated that her dismissal was based on her conduct
at the March 24 meeting, specifically her denial that she had
voided the suspect ticket, and on Britt's determination that
the ticket had actually been used by a Britt passenger.
The circumstances surrounding Jones' suspension and
subsequent dismissal were discussed with several low-level
Britt employees, including a ticket agent, Denise Farace, and
a counter agent, Donna Witten, both of whom were outside the
scope of the investigation.
Publication is an essential element of a cause of action for
libel or slander. The only requirement for publication is that
the defamatory statements be communicated to a third person.
"There may be publication to any third person. It may be made
to . . . the defendant's own agent, employee or officer, even
when the defendant is a corporation." W. Prosser & W. Keeton,
Torts § 113 at 798 (5th ed. 1984). Some courts have found no
publication to have occurred when a defamatory statement is
communicated only within the corporation, see e.g., Prins v.
Holland North American ...