Frierson v. University of Chicago

2015 Ill. App. 151176 (2015)

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Frierson v. University of Chicago

Illinois Appellate Court
2015 Ill. App. 151176 (2015)

Facts

Cynthia Frierson (plaintiff) was employed as the financial-aid director for the medical school of the University of Chicago (the university) (defendant). However, after Frierson’s supervisor, Sylvia Roberson, provided a negative assessment of Frierson on a performance review and recommended her termination, Frierson was fired. Frierson filed a suit against the university for tortious interference with future financial benefit. Frierson alleged that Roberson acted for her own benefit and with the single purpose of hurting Frierson. Frierson offered no facts to support this assertion. Frierson’s suit against the university was based on the theory of respondeat superior, by which an employer may be held vicariously liable for the malicious actions of its workers, for conduct committed within the scope of their employment that caused damage to others. After Frierson submitted her second amended complaint, the university filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Frierson had failed to state a cause of action. In order to state a cause of action for tortious interference, a plaintiff had to show that a defendant intentionally interfered with and destroyed a business relationship, resulting in damages to the plaintiff. Typically, such interference had to be aimed at a third party, because an employer was not able to interfere with its own employment relationship with its workers. However, there existed an exception that provided that if an officer of a company interfered with a worker’s employment and acted in the officer’s sole interest or simply to hurt an employee, this malicious behavior might sustain a claim for tortious interference. The qualified privilege that covered a supervisor’s comments could be overcome with a showing of specific acts of malice or unjustified acts. Frierson’s claim was based on this exception and a claim that Roberson’s act was malicious, for personal gain, and without justification. A trial court granted the university’s motion for dismissal. Frierson appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Mason, J.)

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