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Starting Gay Rumor May Cost Restaurant Owner

(CN) - A Texas restaurant owner is urging the state Supreme Court to throw out a verdict that she defamed a customer by implying he was gay.

Phong Van Meter filed a petition for review of the judgment last week. Texas' 10th Court of Appeals rejected Van Meter's last challenge in December.

A Johnson County judge awarded Van Meter's customer, Bennie Dale Morris, $5,000 for mental anguish he suffered because of defamation.

Though Morris had been a regular customer at Van Meter's restaurant, dining there two or three times a day for 20 years, he said Van Meter subjected him to upsetting questions repeatedly in 2007 and 2008.

When Morris was dining in the full restaurant, Van Meter would allegedly say to Morris, loud enough for other patrons to hear, "Where is your wife?" or "Where is your husband?"

Both comments allegedly referred to Morris' platonic friend, Glen Warren. Both men testified that they were not homosexual.

Morris said he asked Van Meter to stop asking the questions, but she refused.

Morris finally stopped eating at the restaurant, called Frank's Place, and later suffered a stroke. Though Morris admitted that the economy also played a role, he attributed Van Meter's treatment to a downturn in his business, "building driveways and spreading sand for fixing yards around houses."

A friend said the rumors hurt Morris' business because of "the way society is about that type of people."

Warren testified that he saw Van Meter laugh when one of the restaurant's waitresses wrote "Looking for gay friends" on Warren's truck.

"The record contains sufficient evidence establishing that Van Meter's statement were per se slanderous, especially considering that the record supports the trial court's findings that Morris' business sustained losses and Morris' reputation was harmed as a result of Van Meter's statements," Justice Al Scoggins wrote for the Waco-based court in December.

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