Plaintiff argues that an inference of malice is raised by Mr. Breton's failure to investigate more thoroughly "to confirm what he had been told by Ms. Quillen." Plaintiff's Opposition Memorandum 5:14-15. Plaintiff also intimates that the reason for Mr. Breton's prompt response to his employees' complaints, and for his failure to investigate further, was his fear of liability for sexual harassment.
Neither of these claims can defeat summary judgment. By the time Mr. Breton met with Ms. Quillen to discuss the complaints against Mr. Vackar, Ms. Quillen had already conducted a thorough investigation of the situation by separately interviewing ten of the employees whom Mr. Vackar had trained. Given the uniformity of the employees' reports, Mr. Breton's reliance upon their accuracy cannot be deemed reckless. He was under no obligation to confirm the reports for himself or to investigate further before relating what he had learned to Mr. Mosher.
Moreover, Mr. Breton's communication to Mr. Mosher was motivated by a proper purpose, namely, his interest in keeping General Mills's workplace free of harassing conduct. See Garziano v. E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co., 818 F.2d 380 (5th Cir. 1987). Even if his prompt reaction to the reports was motivated in part by a fear of liability, this purpose is not improper and does not preclude application of the privilege. Avoidance of liability for sexual harassment is a legitimate business interest.
III. The Negligent Investigation Claim
In his third cause of action plaintiff reiterates the allegations set forth in support of his defamation cause of action and claims that these facts support a finding of negligent investigation.
Summary judgment is appropriate on this claim for two reasons. First, because the allegations of negligence are embraced by plaintiff's defamation claim, the privilege provisions of section 47(c) preclude a finding of liability. See Stationers Corp. v. Dun & Bradstreet, Inc., 62 Cal. 2d 412, 42 Cal. Rptr. 449, 398 P.2d 785 (1965). Alternatively, California courts have held that plaintiffs may not avoid the strictures of defamation law by artfully pleading their defamation claims to sound in other areas of tort law. See Felton v. Schaeffer, 229 Cal. App. 3d 229, 279 Cal. Rptr. 713 (1991), and cases cited therein. Allowing plaintiffs to sue in negligence where their underlying claims sound in defamation would invite disingenuous attempts to evade the strictures of defamation law by pleading, for example, that the alleged defamer was negligent in investigating the truth of his statements or in republishing them.
Id. at 239.
IV. Plaintiff's Objections to Evidence
Plaintiff has objected to the evidence offered by defendants in support of their motion. His objections fall into two categories. First, plaintiff argues that defendants' motion relies on hearsay evidence both because defendants have failed to produce declarations of the individual trainees on whose reports Ms. Quillen and Mr. Breton relied and because Mr. Breton relied on the report of Ms. Quillen. Plaintiff's second class of objections pertains to references in defendants' declarations to General Mills's policy on sexual harassment. Plaintiff contends that such references must be supported by an actual copy of the policy.
Plaintiff's hearsay objections are overruled because the statements referred to constitute nonhearsay. See Fed. R. Evid. 801(c) (West 1984). The statements of the trainees are offered not as substantive proof that Mr. Vackar offended or harassed the General Mills trainees but rather as evidence of Mr. Breton's state of mind when he made the allegedly defamatory comments to Mr. Mosher. In particular, the statements indicate that, at the time that Mr. Breton telephoned Mr. Mosher, Mr. Breton was aware of the employees' complaints and understood that Ms. Quillen had conducted an investigation that tended to corroborate the complaints. As discussed above, Mr. Breton's state of mind is critical to the determination of privilege under Civil Code section 47(c). His understanding that trainees had complained to Ms. Quillen about Mr. Vackar is relevant to an assessment of whether he acted with malice, or recklessly, in repeating to Mr. Mosher the allegations against Mr. Vackar.
The Court need not address the plaintiff's second set of objections because the Court has not relied on the existence of such a policy in reaching its judgment.
V. Personal Jurisdiction
Mr. Breton earlier brought a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. On June 16, 1993, this Court issued an order requesting further briefing on that issue. Subsequently, in a status conference held on July 23, 1993, the Court ordered discovery on the issue of personal jurisdiction stayed pending the resolution of this summary judgment motion. Because the Court grants defendants' motion for summary judgment, the issue of personal jurisdiction over Mr. Breton is moot.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court hereby GRANTS the motion of defendants General Mills and Steve Breton for summary judgment. Judgment for all defendants shall be entered, and the Clerk of the Court shall close the file.
DATED: October 27, 1993
FERN M. SMITH
United States District Judge