Barry Oliphint worked for Jacobs Engineering for seven years. Mr. Oliphint had a major argument with his supervisor about performing an inspection early. The supervisor and Oliphint agreed Oliphint would resign. But, when Mr. Oliphint started looking for a new job, one interviewer told him he had lied about resigning. It turned out that Jacobs Engineering was telling prospective employers that they had fired Mr. Oliphint.

Oliphint hired a private investigator to find out what Jacobs Engineering was saying about him The investigator learned that the former employer was indeed saying they had fired Oliphint. Unable to find work, Oliphint then sued Jacobs Engineering for defamation. But, the lower court granted the former employer’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal, the Houston court of appeals affirmed.

The appellate court said that in hiring a private investigator, Mr. Oliphint knew what the employer would say. He knew the employer would defame him. Since Oliphint knew what the former employer would say, he “invited” or consented to the defamatory statement. There is considerable caselaw supporting that view. But, the reasoning seems silly when applied in this context. The investigator and Oliphint might have “invited” the defamation during that one telephone call on that one day, but they certainly did not invite or consent to defamation to other potential employers. And, it was the defamation to the other potential employers that caused harm to Mr. Oliphint.

See the decision in Oliphint v. Richards, 167 S.W. 3d 513 (Tex.App. Hou. 2005) here.