Soto-Lebron v. Federal Express, Nos. 06-2501, 06-2519. A guy was fired by FEDEX. He claims Fedex did slandered and libeled him. He gets a jury verdict of $7 million. The District Court saves Fedex a bit, and then the First helps Fedex some more. Despite the obvious class issues involved in this case, let’s see if there is any law.
Fedex’s “security specialist”, Jose Pérez tried to intimidate the plaintiff into saying that the hair care products he shipped were drugs. It is unclear whether Pérez or the plaintiff went to college or not. Pérez claimed to have been a cop, and tried all sorts of silly cop tricks that the lower classes find fun. Strangely, the recipient of the hair care products received them without incident. Fedex “investigated” and fired the guy anyway. If I were him, I would have discussed the situation while playing golf with Fred Smith, the CEO of FedEx. Wouldn’t that be the more mature way to handle the situation rather than making a federal case and becoming emotionally distressed. Why didn’t he just go work for another law firm like everyone I know would do? After all, the First ends up remanding the damages issue because his testimony regarding damages didn’t show that possible other employers got wind of all the bad stuff that people were saying about him. And, because this is Fedex, not a criminal defendant, such an evidentiary error is not harmless, and even a remittitur couldn’t cure the prejudicial effects. To the First’s credit, they do discuss the law of remittitur.
Puerto Rican law has a formula for determining damages for wrongful termination. Fedex claimed that he was fired for violating the company’s “employee shipping” policy, but the jury apparently found that Fedex wasn’t telling the truth.
Fedex wins on the issue of whether “rumors” that were going around him need to be linked to the company in order to support a slander verdict against Fedex. But, the District Court judge found these rumors to be “informal rumors.” Rather than formal rumors.
As to the IIED claims, the First says that Fedex’s behavior just isn’t outrageous enough. Heck, they their security guys were pretty much doing what ever cop does to get poor people to confess, and most prosecutors wholeheartedly approve. In fact, causing emotional distress by lying to suspects is as American as apple pie.
Fedex loses on the libel issue, because the jury form was specific enough to show that their statements between managers were made with such malice as to get around any conditional privilege.
At the end of the opinion, the First says that even though Fedex wins on most issues, their joy should be “muted.” Whatever. The message to Fedex is clear: intimidate your own employees the way cops intimidate the poor. They can be lied to and intimidated. It is ths American and the courts will support you.