Procter & Gamble has countered the devil-worship rumors that began widely circulating in 1981 with repeated lawsuits, including a case pending in Houston that also targets rival Amway.
In 1995, Procter & Gamble sued Amway distributor Randy L. Haugen of Ogden for spreading the satanic rumor to other Amway salesmen on a phone-message system. Procter & Gamble later named Amway as a defendant in the complaint.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Dale A. Kimball in Salt Lake City dismissed the suit, ruling the rumors were not defamatory and that Procter & Gamble hadn't made a case for specific damages.
"We believe the Utah ruling is wrong, and we are appealing it immediately," company spokeswoman Elaine Plummer said from Cincinnati on Monday. "The case in Houston remains strong, and the trial will begin May 3."
Michael More, deputy general counsel for Ada, Mich.-based Amway, said Procter & Gamble "could never express how they were harmed by this voice mail."
But Procter & Gamble, he said, used the suit to extract hundreds of thousands of pages of internal Amway documents that fortified P&G's allegations of anti-competitive practices in the Houston case.
"We were sandbagged," More said.
Kimball said the Satan-worship rumors may be offensive to a respectable business but did not associate Procter & Gamble with unlawful activity.
"A comment that may offend some segments of society, but not others, does not constitute defamation" without a specific showing of the harm done, the judge said.
The rumors grew out of Procter & Gamble's former corporate logo, which depicted a bearded man on the moon and stars, and fueled by a rumor the company's president had promoted devil-worshipping on a Phil Donahue show. No such show was ever taped.
Haugen passed along the Donahue story in Amway's common message system, and one of its subscribers relayed the message to Procter & Gamble. Amway says it acted quickly to quash the rumor, sending a "truth-kit" to Haugen, who put a retraction on the message system.
But it wasn't enough for Procter & Gamble.
More, Amway's lawyer, claims the consumer products giant pressed ahead with a lawsuit in a bid to ruin a smaller rival.
In the Houston case, Plummer said, Procter & Gamble has evidence that other Amway sales agents spread the rumored Satanic ties and made "false statements about our product ingredients, efficacy and safety."
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