In February 2005, Sanford Kelsey visited Indianapolis to interview with a law firm. He stayed with his long-time friend, Thomas Williams. The two men went to a Papa John’s in Westfield to pick up a pizza. After they left the store, delivery driver Kelly Tharp told co-workers that Kelsey had pulled out a gun. Tharp repeated his story to local police, describing the men’s car and offering a license plate number.
When the two men arrived home, they were surrounded by police, who ordered them to their knees at gunpoint. While family members watched, the two were handcuffed and detained for more than an hour. No gun was found.
The men sued Papa John’s for defamation, negligent hiring and related claims.
Papa John’s prevailed in district court, which found that Tharp’s report to police was privileged and not defamatory. That canceled out all the related charges.
The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, finding “ample evidence” that could indicate Tharp “acted with reckless disregard for the truth,” voiding his privilege.
The court was encouraged in this finding by a quick review of Tharp’s work history at Papa John’s: The company had inadvertently hired him three times at three locations. The first time he was terminated for theft. The second time, he was hired under a fraudulent name, but was terminated because he was incarcerated. The third time, he used his father’s name, Social Security card and driver’s license to join the Westfield store.
Note to Papa John’s: It never hurts to look at the driver’s license photo.
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