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Lent v. Huntoon

470 A.2d 1162 (1983)

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Lent v. Huntoon

Vermont Supreme Court

470 A.2d 1162 (1983)

Facts

Ronald Lent (plaintiff) worked for Huntoon Business Machines, Inc. (Huntoon) (defendant), a company engaged in business-equipment sales and service. When he was hired, Lent told Huntoon that he was on probation for a criminal conviction and had committed a minor offense while in the Air Force. Lent’s work performance for Huntoon was fully satisfactory, and he was promoted to service manager. After 13 years, Lent told Huntoon that he was leaving because he was moving to Florida as soon as his house sold. Lent offered to stay to train his replacement, but Huntoon discharged him. Lent could not sell his house, so he opened his own business-equipment sales and service company and began competing with Huntoon. Huntoon sent a letter to customers Huntoon and Lent were competing for, claiming that Huntoon had fired Lent for sound business reasons. Huntoon also made several false verbal allegations to these customers, including that Lent had a criminal record a mile long, had stolen from Huntoon, was an incompetent serviceman, and was untrustworthy. Because of the allegations, Lent lost customers, suffered physical and emotional problems, and neglected his business. Lent filed a defamation action against Huntoon, but Huntoon employees continued to make the allegations. A jury awarded Lent compensatory and punitive damages. The trial court denied Huntoon’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Huntoon appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Underwood, J.)

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