A U.S. District Court jury has awarded $50,000 to a former room clerk at a Washington hotel who contended he was libeled when the hotel said on an insurance claim form that he had "dishonestly misappropriated" $200 from a petty cash box in June 1975.
Charles J. Savarese III, who denied he had taken the money, contended during a trial before Judge Joyce Hens Green that the hotel officials had no reasonable basis to believe that he had stolen the funds, according to David R. Addis, an attorney who represented Savarese.
Officials at what was then known as the K Street Hotel discovered that the box and the cash were missing after Savarese had reported that he lost his key to the box, Addis said. The hotel recovered the $200 from the Hartford Fire Insurance Company, Addis said.
Hotel officals made no attempt to prove that Savarese, now 24 years old, had taken the money, according to Michael D. X. Dolan, an attorney for the hotel corporation. No theft report was filed with the police, attorneys said.
Hotel officials testified that they were apprehensive about the wording of the claim form, which had been provided by Hartford with a blank space after the words "dishonestly misappropriated by," Dolan said. But no other form was available, Dolan said.
The hotel argued that despite the wording on the form, officials there held no personal bias or malice against Savarese, the legal standard for a libel claim, Dolan said. According to testimony in the case, Hartford would have honored the insurance claim if the word "unknown" had been inserted on the form instead of Savarese's name, Dolan said.
Dolan said the hotel corporation intends to ask the court to reduce the jury award or order a new trial in the case.
The hotel took no action against Savarese, who voluntarily resigned from his job shortly after the incident, lawyers said. He is now employed as an assistant club manager for the Hotel Corporation of America in Gadsden, Ala.
In addition to the $50,000 in punitive damages on the libel claim, the jury of four men and two women last Friday also awarded Savarese $2 in compensatory damages against the hotel corporation and its comptroller, according to Addis, who represented Savarese along with attorney Rosalyn Mayer.
The K Street Hotel, now known as Best Western Midtown, is at 1201 K St. NW.