The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Greiman
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County.
The Honorable Sophia H. Hall, judge Presiding.
The Honorable Michael Kelly, judge Presiding.
Plaintiffs, Enrica Cianci and Renate Nowosad, brought suits against defendants Pettibone Corporation, Beardsley Piper Division (Pettibone), James Hall, and Mary Mendez alleging defamation. The circuit court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on Cianci's claim and, after trial, the circuit court entered judgment for defendants on Nowosad's claim. Both plaintiffs appealed and this court consolidated the cases. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
On September 6, 1996, Cianci filed a second amended complaint alleging defamation. *fn1 According to the complaint, Cianci was employed by Pettibone with Hall as her supervisor and Mendez as a member of management. Cianci alleged that on April 15, 1994, Hall falsely stated in the presence of others that Cianci wrongfully made personal shipments via DHL courier services at Pettibone, charged the services to the company without permission from anyone in authority, did so secretly, and personally profited from the shipments.
Cianci further alleged that on April 19, 1994, Hall published a letter making "allegations of illegal DHL use by [Cianci]" and terminating her employment. Cianci alleged that the statements in the letter and those made by Hall were published to nonmanagement employees of Pettibone, including but not limited to John Dreier. Cianci alleged that Hall knew that the statements were false because it was "a fringe benefit of [Cianci's] employment with Pettibone" and her "use of DHL gratis had been approved by Pettibone management."
Cianci also alleged that Mendez falsely testified before an unemployment compensation hearing officer in regard to Cianci's claim for benefits, stating that Cianci had been fired for "taking company money via personal use of DHL at company expense." Cianci claimed Mendez was aware of other employees using DHL for personal letters at the company's expense and Mendez herself used DHL for personal letters at the company's expense. She also claimed that Mendez was aware of and approved her use of DHL for personal letters.
In her deposition, Cianci stated that she worked as an executive secretary for Pettibone and in 1991 she began assuming customer service duties. On April 15, 1994, Tony Odarczenko, her supervisor in the customer service department, asked her to report to the conference room. Hall, Mendez, Renate Nowosad (a co-worker), and another member of the Pettibone staff were already in the room. Hall had a list of DHL shipments sent from the company which he presented to Cianci and Nowosad. He stated that Nowosad and Cianci were going to be suspended for three days because they used the DHL courier service without reimbursing the company. It would later be determined whether they were still employed or terminated. Nowosad stated that she "didn't do it," but no one else in the room said anything. Cianci later received a letter terminating her employment.
Cianci reviewed the list of DHL shipments that had been given to her during the meeting and admitted using the DHL courier service to send various personal items without reimbursing Pettibone for the charges. She admitted using the service to send her mortgage and credit card payments and to send a personal check order. She further admitted using DHL service to send documents to her nephew in Italy. She stated that the shipment to Italy included company equipment brochures.
Cianci identified Hall's letter terminating her employment, which stated, in part:
"In the meeting held on April 15, 1994, the issue of unauthorized personal use of the DHL courier service was discussed. This activity was discovered by an audit of the DHL account where a number of unsigned DHL shipping documents were discovered and subsequently traced to employees.
At least 15 unauthorized DHL shipments went to places where you conduct personal business. Specifically, several mortgage companies where you have or used to have accounts apparently received your mortgage payments via DHL. Another recipient was a company that prints personal checks. The 'ship to' address for the checks was your home address.
Unauthorized use of courier services is a serious problem. We suspended your employment for three days to consider further action. Upon further review of this situation we have decided to terminate your employment. Your last day of official employment will be April 20, 1994. We regret having to take this action but feel it is in the best long term interest of Beardsley and Piper."
Cianci admitted that she did not know if Hall had showed the letter to anyone else. She stated that she knew that two female employees called Nowosad after the suspension and indicated that they knew the reason for the suspension and ultimately the termination, but Cianci did not know who told them. John Dreier, another Pettibone employee, called her the day after she was terminated and indicated that he knew the reason for the termination, but Cianci did not know who told him. In his deposition, Dreier stated that he had never seen the letter and he did not know whether Hall had showed the letter to anyone.
Cianci claimed it was a common practice for employees to use the DHL service and named several other employees who used DHL for personal business. She knew of two employees who used DHL for personal business because they told her, she knew of another employee who used DHL for personal matters because his secretary told her and she knew of another employee who used DHL for personal business because she prepared the slips for him as his secretary. She also stated that she knew that Mendez used DHL for personal business because she saw a copy of a DHL ticket on which she recognized Mendez's handwriting, and the shipment was to Sicily and Mendez had mentioned that her neighbor was from Sicily. Cianci stated that she did not know whether anyone from Pettibone had authorized any of these individuals' use of the service for personal business and none of the individuals had told her that they were so ...