Brothel Gossip Wasn’t Defamatory, Judge Says

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Chevron is not liable because its employee gossiped that his former co-worker was fired for frequenting strip clubs and brothels, a federal judge ruled, overturning a jury’s $100,000 award.



     Richard Duste claimed he was slandered by two statements that another Chevron employee made. During an internal investigation, the co-worker allegedly reported that Duste “frequented” gentlemen’s clubs and brothels. At a subsequent trade show, that same employee allegedly told a third party that Chevron fired Duste because of those proclivities.
     In October 2011, a jury ordered Chevron to pay Duste $49,125 for harm to his reputation and another $49,125 for shame, mortification and hurt feelings. The jurors found liability only in the comments at the trade show.
     U.S. District Judge Maria-Elena James overturned the jury award on Monday, however, saying that Duste hadn’t proved that Chevron hurt his reputation.
     Rather than negatively affecting the third party’s perception of Duste, however, the trade show attendee testified that he “wished he had known sooner because he would have gone to strip clubs with” Duste.
     “The jury … found that Duste had suffered no economic or pecuniary loss attributable to the statement,” James wrote. “Having found no actual damages, the jury nevertheless went on to award damages for assumed harm to plaintiff’s reputation, and for ‘shame, mortification, and hurt feelings.’ Absent proof of special damages, however, there is no legal basis for such an award.”
     “Duste has not carried his burden of proof, and the jury’s verdict is insupportable,” James concluded.

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