Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/829

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THE LEGAL STATUS OF SERVANT-GLRLS.

unasked displays a forward and officious zeal in giving a character prejudicial to a former servant, it will be a material guide to the jury in ascertaining the real motive.[1] The mere fact, however, that a communication is voluntarily made does not of necessity render it unprivileged, and, if the publication is warranted by an occasion apparently beneficial and honest, and there is no malice, it is not actionable.[2] If, for instance, a lady who has given a servant a good character finds that she was not justified in so doing, it is her right and it becomes her duty to communicate the facts to the person to whom the other communication was made, in order to prevent that person's being misled by the previous recommendation, and such a communication is privileged.[3] So, too, if a person to whom a servant has been recommended finds out that the character given was not justified by the servant's actions, and informs the lady who recommended her of the fact, and cautions her against giving recommendations for morality or honesty, this is, in the absence of malice, a privileged communication.[4] Where a lady gives a character in response to an inquiry, she will not be presumed to have been actuated by malice.[5] Even if what she says is untrue, she can not be successfully sued, unless the servant can prove that she spoke maliciously, and knew that what she said was untrue and injurious.[6] And she need not prove the truth of her statement unless it is plain that she was actuated by malicious motives. If under such circumstances a prima facie case of falsehood be made out, she will be bound to show that the assertions were made under a belief in their truth.[7] A lady once had a young woman in her employ, who was afterward dismissed. Having a chance to make another engagement, she referred to her former mistress, who wrote to the person making inquiry: "I parted with her on account of her incompetency, and not being lady-like nor good-tempered. P. S. May I trouble you to tell her that, this being the third time I have been referred to, I beg to decline any more applications?" The result could have been foreseen. The girl lost the engagement. Stung by the letter, she sued the writer, and general evidence was given of her competency, lady-like manners, and good temper, and that, in reply to the two previous applications which were made before her dismissal, the writer had recommended her. It did not appear in evidence why she was dismissed. The judge told the jury that they must decide whether there was sufficient proof that the defendant, in writing the letter, had been influenced by some improper-feeling toward the plaintiff to make a false statement knowingly. They found that there was, and the plaintiff got a verdict.

On another occasion a man was asked about the character of a servant who had been in his employ, and he replied that she was dishonest. Of course, she lost the prospective engagement. She sued.

  1. Starkio, 344.
  2. Starkie, 344.
  3. 30 N. Y., 20.
  4. 1 F. and F., 24.
  5. Burr, 2425.
  6. 3 Q. B., 11.
  7. 3 Q. B., 5; 109 Mass., 193.