If an employee loses a job as a result of a customer’s complaint, it is very difficult for that employee to hold that customer legally responsible. The claim against a customer would be a claim of intentional interference with contractual relations. This type of claim was analyzed in a recent New Hampshire federal court decision. In the case of George Tsiatsios v. Anheuser Busch, Inc., Tsiatsios claimed that one of Anheuser-Busch’s managers at the Merrimack brewery intentionally and improperly interfered with his employment at Gauthier Farm Enterprises. However, as reported by The Telegraph on January 28, 2009, the court found that Tsiatsios could not prove that Anheuser-Busch’s interference with his employment at Gauthier Farm Enterprises was either intentional or improper.
Anheuser-Busch, in its beer fermenting process at the Merrimack, New Hampshire, plant, creates a grain by-product commonly known in the industry as “spent grain.” Blue Sky Ag Marketing (“Blue Sky”) is a grain by-products broker that sells spent grain to farmers throughout New England as cattle feed. Over the years Blue Sky has contracted with various trucking companies to haul spent grain from the brewery to its customers at local farms. Tsiatsios worked for a variety of those trucking companies picking up spent grain at the Merrimack plant. He acknowledged that Anheuser-Busch promulgated safety and security rules requiring truck drivers, such as him, to wear identification badges, hard hats, safety glasses, and ear plugs while on brewery property. Tsiatsios admitted that he understood his failure to comply with those rules would result in his being banned from the brewery and that all drivers had received reminder safety notices.
In 2004, Tsiatsios drove his truck to the Anheuser-Busch brewery to pick up spent grain just as he had on numerous prior occasions and waited in a nearby control room for his truck to fill with grain. Soon after, Roland Vance, Anheuser-Busch’s resident health and safety manage, entered the room and found Tsiatsios who he did not know without an identification badge wearing aviator glasses instead of protective eyewear. When Vance questioned Tsiatsios, he refused to identify himself and only revealed that he was at the brewery to load grain. Tsiatsios even walked out on Vance during his questioning. Don Paulson, Blue Sky’s director of operations was at the brewery overseeing the transition from one trucking company to Gauthier Farm. He observed Tsiatsios exit the control room followed by Vance. Vance explained to Paulson what had transpired and explained to him that Tsiatsios’ behavior was unacceptable. Paulson relayed Vance’s account and his own observations to Gauthier Farm and informed Gauthier Farm that he did not want Tsiatsios back on Anheuser-Busch property. Thereafter Gauthier Farm terminated Tsiatsios’ at-will employment.
While the facts in this case actually revealed there was no intentional interference with Tsiatsios’ employment, the court’s analysis of when interference with employment is improper is the most useful for both employees and employers to understand their legal rights. The court noted that under New Hampshire law interfering with a contractual relationship of another is not improper when a customer merely relayed truthful information or interfered as a means of protecting its own legitimate interest. In this case, not only had Vance relayed truthful information, albeit he characterized Tsiatsios’ behavior as “unacceptable”, but Anheuser-Busch obviously had an extremely legitimate interest in its safety protocols including public safety, work-place safety, its own economic interest, and insulation from civil liability from accidents occurring injuring third parties on the brewery premises. Therefore, there were no issues of material facts to go to trial and Anheuser-Busch won as a matter of law.
J. Daniel Marr is a Director and Shareholder at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. His legal practice includes counseling businesses and individuals on a variety of legal issues and advocating on their behalf. Attorney Marr is licensed and practices in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Attorney Marr can be reached at [email protected].