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Ralph Varrato v. Unilife Corporation

April 20, 2011

RALPH VARRATO, PLAINTIFF
v.
UNILIFE CORPORATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Chief Judge Kane)

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Ralph Varrato initiated this action against Defendants by filing a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of York County, Pennsylvania on February 3, 2011. The complaint raises a claim for breach of contract against Defendant Unilife and claims of defamation against all Defendants. On March 1, 2011, Defendants filed notice of removal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 and § 1446. On March 8, 2011, Defendants Ann Otzenberger, Alan Shortall, and Eugene Shortall filed motions to dismiss the defamation claims raised against them. The matter having been fully briefed, the Court will now grant Defendants' motion in part and deny the motion in part.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

According to Plaintiff's complaint, Plaintiff is a former employee of Defendant Unilife.

(Doc. No. 1-3 ¶ 12.) In July 2010, the parties agreed to end this relationship and entered into a "Confidential Agreement and General Release" on July 15, 2010. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) The express purpose of the agreement is to "avoid litigation and resolve any and all claims or differences arising out of Varrato's employment." (Doc. No. 7-1 ¶ 2.) Pursuant to the agreement, Defendant Unilife waived its right to collect $56,093.31 from Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 3.) In consideration of this waiver, Plaintiff agreed to:

[F]orever release and discharge Unilife and its parents, subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, directors, agents, contractors, consultants and employees, past and present, collectively or individually, from any and all claims, demands, causes of actions, losses and expenses of every nature whatsoever, known or unknown, arising up to and including the date on which [Plaintiff] executes this Agreement, including but not limited to any claims arising out of or in connection with his employment or separation from employment with Unilife. (Id. ¶ 8(a).) The agreement further specified that the release covered, inter alia, claims of libel and slander. (Id. ¶ 8(a)(I).) In addition, the parties agreed to "not make statements to any third parties about each other and/or their affilitates, products, owners, employees, or representatives that are in any way disparaging or negative." (Id. ¶ 9(a).)

After the agreement was executed and Plaintiff began a new job, he became aware of statements he alleges constitute violations of the agreement, namely:

July 9, 2010, Alan Shortall, the CEO of Unilife advised the entire facilities department that:

1. Varrato "is a rat and incompetent" and because of that "he was taken off the construction building."

2. That Varrato was connected to organized crime by stating "Varrato can bring his Gambinos."

3. He told Varrato "he was a rat to his face so I have no problem telling you this."

4. Varrato "cost the company millions."

July 15, 2010, Eugene Shortall, a V.P. of Unilife advised Jim Weir that Unilife paid Varrato "$50,000 to walk away and not sue the company." [ . . . ]

After August of 2010, Alan Shortall, the CEO of Unilife, Bernhard Opitz, the Senior VP Operations of Unilife, Jim Weir, the Facility Manager of Unilife and Ann Otzenberger, the Quality Manager of Unilife all advised Unilife employees, vendors and/or suppliers that Varrato was fired from his new job because he tried to use United Partitions at the new company. (Doc. No. 1-3 ¶ 19.)*fn2 In addition, Plaintiff alleges that "Unilife employees even shared disparaging comments about Varrato with their family members. Specifically, Varrato's daughter, Angela Varrato received a text message from the ...


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