Gary G. Harris, Appellant,
Tietex International Ltd., Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2014-000902
Submitted May 2, 2016
From Spartanburg County J. Derham Cole, Circuit Court Judge
Alan Lazenby and Ginger D. Goforth, both of Lazenby Law Firm,
LLC, of Spartanburg, for Appellant.
W. Suggs, Jr. and Lucas James Asper, of Ogletree Deakins Nash
Smoak & Stewart, PC, of Greenville, for Respondent.
defamation case, Gary Harris appeals the trial court's
grant of summary judgment in favor of Tietex International,
Ltd. (Tietex), arguing the trial court erred in finding
summary judgment was appropriate based on (1) a lack of
genuine issue of material fact, (2) the statute of
limitations, (3) res judicata, and (4) collateral estoppel.
1994, Tietex hired Harris as a senior research chemist. In
2006, Harris began to complain of having difficulty breathing
and experiencing flu-like symptoms and headaches. Harris
believed his health problems were being caused by mold
present near his work area in Tietex's laboratory. Tietex
had the laboratory tested; however, no mold was detected. A
series of emails between Harris and his supervisor, Wade
Wallace, indicate they discussed relocating Harris from the
lab and allowing Harris to work in another area to protect
him from the environment. Wallace explained to Harris that
Tietex did not want to take any chances with his health and
instructed Harris not to enter the lab under any
February 9, 2007, Wallace sent an email to his supervisor,
Mark Isbell, and Human Resources Manager David Wilson,
summarizing a conversation he allegedly had with Harris two
days earlier. In the email, Wallace explained that Harris had
expressed he was overwhelmed with personal problems and was
"confused, disoriented, and could not function."
However, according to Wallace, Harris eventually stated he
could work through his problems and thanked Wallace for his
support and patience.
March 5, 2007, Wallace met with Harris to discuss several
issues Harris needed to correct regarding his work
performance. Following their meeting, Wallace sent a memo to
Wilson, Isbell, and Harris, outlining the issues he and
Harris discussed. On June 18, 2007, Wallace sent another memo
to Wilson, Harris, and Isbell regarding Harris's work on
two projects. Wallace explained Harris initiated the first
project by convincing management he could develop a chemical
compound that would result in cost savings for Tietex.
However, according to Wallace, Harris had made no significant
progress after working on the project for six months. Wallace
claimed Harris "exercised poor judgement by making
claims and commitments that he could not deliver."
Wallace also criticized Harris's work on the second
project, claiming Harris failed to conduct adequate
scientific analysis. Wallace stated Harris's
"negligence" was unacceptable for a senior research
3, 2007, Wallace placed Harris on administrative suspension.
On July 18, 2007, Wallace sent a final memo to Wilson and
Isbell regarding Harris. Wallace claimed Harris had failed to
correct all but one of the issues oulined in the March 5,
2007 memo and described several other problems he had had
with Harris's work performance. Wallace explained he had
lost confidence in Harris's ability to perform his job
and recommended Tietex terminate Harris's employment. On
July 19, 2007, Tietex terminated Harris's employment.
August 2008, Harris filed a complaint in circuit court
asserting causes of action against Tietex for retaliation and
discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment
(ADEA), breach of contract, breach of contract accompanied by
a fraudulent act, and defamation. Tietex removed the case to
United States District Court.
deposition, Harris initially claimed the issues Wallace
described in the March 5, 2007 memo regarding Harris were
false; however, when questioned about each issue
individually, Harris did not completely dispute each point.
Harris also disputed some of the information contained in the
June 18, 2007 memo and July 18, 2007 memo. Additionally,
Harris characterized the portion of the June memo that
described his work on the second project as "highly
misleading as to what really happened." Harris admitted
he had no evidence that Tietex shared these memos with anyone
other than the individuals to whom they were addressed.
October 28, 2010, the district court granted summary judgment
to Tietex on Harris's ADEA claims and dismissed
Harris's state law claims, declining to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit Court of
Appeals affirmed the district court's judgment on May 31,
October 21, 2011, Harris filed his complaint against Tietex
in the instant case. Harris later filed an amended complaint,
which included a cause of action for defamation. Harris's
amended complaint did not identify the specific statements on
which his defamation claim was based. At a deposition, Harris
identified seven items related to his lawsuit that he
believed were defamatory: (1) the February 9, 2007 email from
Wallace to Wilson; (2) the March 5, 2007 memo; (3) the June
18, 2007 memo; (4) the July 18, 2007 memo; (5) "rumors
in the industry" that he had been terminated for
falsifying a test report; (6) Tietex suspending Harris; and
(7) Tietex "banning" Harris from the laboratory.
Harris admitted his defamation ...