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Agriss v. Roadway Express, Inc.
Superior Court of Pennsylvania
483 A.2d 456 (1984)
William Agriss (plaintiff) filed suit for defamation against his employer, Roadway Express, Inc. (Roadway) (defendant), after he received a company “warning letter” alleging that Agriss had opened company mail in violation of company policy. Agriss was a truck driver for Roadway and also served as a shop steward for the local union. For nearly a year after he received the letter Agriss received comments and questions about the document from Roadway employees and union officials. The accusation in the letter was false. However, despite Agriss’ claims of the falsity of the allegation, word spread throughout the company and Agriss’ general character for honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness was called into question. The letter was subsequently distributed to three managerial employees of Roadway and to a union representative. At trial, Agriss testified that in all his time as a union steward and having dealt with thousands of grievances, he had never heard of an employee’s being warned for opening company mail. Agriss further testified that such an accusation meant much more to company employees than possibly an average individual because it called into question Agriss’ character and impugned his reputation. The trial court held that the charge of “opening company mail” was not defamatory on its face to warrant imposition of liability for libel per se. Thus, the court concluded that Agriss was required to show extrinsic facts and circumstances imparting a defamatory meaning on the words and to specifically allege special damages. Because Agriss failed to do so, the trial court dismissed the complaint. Agriss appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Cirillo, J.)
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