Varian Medical Systems, Inc. v. Delfino

113 Cal.App.4th 273 (2003)


Varian Medical Systems, Inc. (P) and Varian Semiconductor Equipment Associates, Inc. (P) are publicly traded companies that manufacture technological equipment for medical and other markets. Zdasiuk (P) is a vice president of VMS and Felch (P) is the director of a VSEA research center. Delfino (D) was employed by Varian as a senior engineer. Zdasiuk fired him in October 1998 for complaints that he was disruptive and harassing to Felch and other co-workers. Defendant Day (D) resigned in sympathy two months later. Ds began a campaign of posting derogatory messages about Ps on Internet bulletin boards. Ds maligned Varian products. Ds accused Felch of being 'a manipulative liar' or 'a neurotic hallucinator.' Ds charged Zdasiuk with being mentally ill. Ds claimed both executives were incompetent and accused them of being chronic liars. Many of the messages contained sexual implications. Ps filed this lawsuit, and a torrent of messages erupted. Ds even published their own website dedicated to an ongoing narrative of the case. The messages denigrated Varian products and Varian executives, and messages implying sexual improprieties, messages referring to Ps as incompetent, and messages accusing them of harassment and discrimination. One message accused Felch of stalking Day. Others accused them of performing sex to keep their jobs and setting up videotaped cameras in bathrooms. The jury found Ds liable for defamation (libel), invasion of privacy (appropriation of name), breach of contract, and conspiracy and determined as to each tort that defendants had acted with malice, fraud or oppression. The jury awarded plaintiffs $425,000 in presumed or general damages and $350,000 in punitive damages. No special damages were awarded on any cause of action. The trial court ordered a permanent injunction. This appeal resulted.