Statement by Employer to His Employees Concerning Cause of Discharge of Fellow Employee Is Not Privileged-Sias v. General Motors Corp.

Plaintiff, employed for ten years by defendant as a plant guard and held in high repute by the community, was summarily discharged for allegedly taking company property. The property in question was an automobile generator that plaintiff claimed to believe was one he had arranged to purchase from the company as salvage for use in his own car. Plaintiff removed the generator in an open manner, explaining to other employees what he was doing. The generator was found in the guard booth where plaintiff had left it with another guard while he went to the plant medical department for treatment of an injury. On his return to the booth had violated regulations, and fired. Shortly thereafter, in an attempt to arrest rumors and restore morale, defendant informed certain other guards, selected at random, of the reason for plaintiff’s discharge. Plaintiff brought an action for slander. The trial court ruled the communication unprivileged and submitted to the jury only the question of truth. A verdict for plaintiff was returned. On appeal from an order denying defendant’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, held, affirmed. Fellow employees do not have sufficient interest in the discharge of a co-worker to protect by qualified privilege a slanderous communication made to them by the employer explaining the cause of the discharge. Sias v. General Motors Corp., 372 Mich. 542, 127 N.W.2d 357 (1964).