Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 11-L-548 Honorable Judith M. Brawka, Judge, Presiding.
JUSTICE SCHOSTOK delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Hudson and Birkett concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 Plaintiff, Joseph Pompa, appeals from an order of the circuit court of Kane County dismissing with prejudice his two-count, amended complaint filed against defendant, Paul Swanson. Plaintiff contends that he stated a claim for defamation per se in count I and a claim for intentional interference with the expectation of a retirement gift in count II. Because plaintiff failed to state a claim for either defamation per se or intentional interference with the expectation of a retirement gift, we affirm.
¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND
¶ 3 The following facts are derived from the allegations in count I of plaintiff's amended complaint. Plaintiff was employed by Carpenters Union 839 from 1979 to 2010. During his tenure, plaintiff was elected five times to the office of financial secretary and served a total of 20 years in that position. He also worked several years as a business manager for the union. While employed for the union, plaintiff had a "good reputation, " was a "highly valued employee and union officer, " and performed all of his job responsibilities in a "satisfactory manner."
¶ 4 Defendant also worked for the union and served one term as president. Defendant expressed his dislike of plaintiff to both plaintiff and other union employees. Defendant also was jealous of plaintiff's influence in union matters, particularly elections.
¶ 5 In 2009, defendant, in an effort to undermine certain union election candidates supported by plaintiff, circulated a flyer among union members. The flyer stated that plaintiff was paid a salary based on 80 hours per month when the average financial secretary's salary was based on 25 to 30 hours per month. In reality, plaintiff's salary was based on 80 hours per month because that was the amount of time he actually spent on that job per month. In the 2009 election, only two of the six candidates supported by defendant were elected. This angered defendant, who continued to refuse to speak to plaintiff.
¶ 6 On or about September 30, 2010, plaintiff decided to retire. The union, in appreciation for work performed by its full-time employees, would, on a "regular basis, " provide those employees with substantial retirement "gifts." For example, six prior employees received retirement gifts ranging from a weekend at Lake Geneva, with all expenses paid, to $30, 000, consisting of money from the union and the proceeds from a retirement party.
¶ 7 On or about October 8, 2010, the executive board met for the purpose of discussing plaintiff's "retirement gift." Defendant attended the meeting in his capacity as a business representative. Defendant had no duty to speak at the meeting about plaintiff's job performance and did so only by permission.
¶ 8 During the meeting, defendant stated that plaintiff "was not deserving of any [retirement] gift." Although plaintiff was not present, several former coworkers later told him that defendant made false statements about him in an attempt to deprive him of a "customary retirement gift." Upon information and belief, defendant stated that plaintiff had "performed his job unsatisfactorily" and thus did not deserve a retirement gift. Further, upon information and belief, defendant falsely stated that plaintiff was overpaid because his salary was based on 80 hours per month while the average financial secretary's salary was based on 25 to 30 hours per month. The executive board voted not to give plaintiff a retirement gift.
¶ 9 The amended complaint further alleged that defendant's statement that plaintiff performed his job unsatisfactorily was false. It also alleged that the statement that plaintiff's salary was based on 80 hours per month while the average salary was based on 25 to 30 hours was false. Such statements were allegedly false because: (1) plaintiff was overwhelmingly elected financial secretary five times; (2) plaintiff actually worked 80 hours per month; and (3) plaintiff was well respected for his diligence and commitment to the union, and even defendant had praised plaintiff in the past.
¶ 10 The following statements by defendant to the executive board were alleged to be defamatory per se: (1) that plaintiff did not deserve a retirement gift given his poor job performance, because it imputed "incompetency to [plaintiff] and/or lack of integrity"; and (2) that plaintiff was overpaid, because it imputed that plaintiff's actions as financial secretary were "imprudent and/or he lacked integrity." It was further alleged that defendant made these statements knowing them to be false or with reckless disregard as to their truth, because defendant knew that plaintiff enjoyed an "excellent professional reputation." Defendant's statements were willful and wanton and calculated to cause plaintiff to lose a substantial retirement gift. Defendant also made these statements with actual malice.
¶ 11 Count II alleged that plaintiff had a "reasonable expectation of receiving a retirement gift, " defendant knew of that reasonable expectation, defendant purposely interfered with that reasonable expectation by defaming plaintiff at the board meeting, and such defamation resulted in plaintiff's not ...