This defamation suit was brought by an ex-employee against his former employer, a Texas corporation. A jury returned answers to special interrogatories upon which the District Court entered judgment for defendant. We affirm.
In September of 1970, defendant Shop Rite Foods, Inc., a retail grocery chain in Texas, began an investigation into suspected thievery at its Grand Prairie, Texas, warehouse. Plaintiff Wells, a management-level supervisory employee, was instructed to inspect lunch boxes and packages belonging to employees leaving the warehouse. Additionally, Shop Rite employed a private detective agency, Denco Security Systems, to take written statements from suspected employees and to examine those employees with a polygraph.
Wells alleged that he was slandered by both the acts and the words of one of defendant's management personnel who was found to have told a union steward that Wells was fired for stealing.
On appeal, Wells raises three points of error. He argues that the District Court erred (1) in refusing to submit to the jury the issue of whether Shop Rite's acts slandered him by falsely accusing him of theft, (2) in excluding the testimony of a witness, and (3) in improperly framing one of the special interrogatories. We perceive no error.
(1) As to Wells' first contention, the District Court correctly refused to give this charge:
(2) Wells next objects to the District Court's refusal to permit a witness, Clovis Brown, to testify that several Shop Rite employees had told him that they had heard that Wells had been discharged for stealing. This testimony was hearsay and was properly excluded.
(3) Finally, Wells contends that the District Court erred in framing Special Interrogatory Number 2 and in conditioning an answer to Special Interrogatory Number 3 upon an affirmative answer to Number 2.
Special Interrogatory Number 2 reads:
The next interrogatory, Special Interrogatory Number 3, dealt with whether Rematore was performing a duty owed to defendant when he gave Nettles a reason for the discharge. The jury was instructed not to answer Interrogatory Number 3 unless it had answered Interrogatory Number 2 affirmatively.
According to the testimony at the trial, Mr. Rematore, the warehouse superintendent for Shop Rite, told the union steward that Wells had been discharged for theft. Wells argues that this slanderous statement by Rematore establishes Shop Rite's liability. Such is not the case. Assuming the statement by Rematore was slanderous, Wells still had to link it to Shop Rite for Shop Rite to be liable. In Texam Oil Corp. v. Poynor, 436 S.W.2d 129 (Tex.1968), the Texas Supreme Court approved this statement of Texas law:
436 S.W.2d at 130. Thus, under Texam Oil Corp., Wells had the burden of proving that Rematore's statement was made in the discharge of a corporate duty. The jury's answer to Special Interrogatory Number 2 shows that it resolved the issue against Wells. We conclude, therefore, that Special Interrogatory Number 2 was correctly framed and that a negative answer to it foreclosed Shop Rite's liability for Rematore's statement. Until his statement was proven legally attributable to Shop Rite, Shop Rite's liability had not been established.