Agriss v. Roadway Express, Inc.

483 A.2d 456 (1984)


P had been employed by D since 1976 as a truck driver. P was elected as a shop steward for Teamsters Local 229. On December 21, 1979, P returned from a round trip and the driver foreman, Steve Versuk, handed P a company 'warning letter,' signed by Versuk and initialed by relay manager Joe Moran. The letter read: On 12/21/79 at Tannersville, Pennsylvania, you violated our policy (or contract) by opening company mail. Subsequent violations of any company policy or contract will result in your receiving more severe disciplinary action up to and including discharge in accordance with Article 44 of the Central Pa Over-the-road and Local Cartage Supplemental Agreement. P had never, on that or any other day, opened company mail. P immediately denied the charge and Moran refused to withdraw the warning. P presented a formal protest, which Moran rejected. Under the contractual grievance procedure, such a protest was the only remedial step open to an employee receiving a warning letter. P got many comments and questions from D employees and union officials. Over the next year, P continued to receive comments. P sued D claiming that D had defamed him. P testified that the statement called into question P's character and impugned his reputation. The trial court held that the charge of “opening company mail” was not defamatory on its face and that P must prove extrinsic facts to prove a defamatory meaning. It ruled that P failed to do so. The court granted D's motion for compulsory nonsuit, ruling that P's evidence failed to prove a cause of action for defamation. P appealed.