A New Tortious Interference with Contractual Relations: Gender and Erotic Triangles in Lumley v. Gye

42 Pages Posted: 29 Aug 2011 Last revised: 13 Feb 2012

Sarah Lynnda Swan

Columbia University, Law School

Date Written: August 29, 2011

Abstract

The tort of interference with contractual relations has many puzzling features that conflict with fundamental principles of contract and tort law. This Article considers how gender influenced the structure of the tort and gave rise to many of these anomalies. Lumley v. Gye, the English case that first established interference with contractual relations, arose from a specifically gendered dispute: two men fighting over a woman. This type of male—male—female configuration creates an erotic triangle, a common archetype in Western culture. The causes of action that served as the legal precedents for interference with contractual relations – enticement, seduction, and criminal conversation – are previous instances where the law regulated gendered triangular conflicts. Enticement prohibited a rival male from taking another man’s servant, seduction prohibited a rival male from taking another man’s daughter, and criminal conversation prohibited a rival male from taking another man’s wife.

In Lumley v. Gye, the court expanded these precedents and created a cause of action that allowed Lumley to bring an action against his male rival for essentially “taking” his contracted female employee. The gendered basis for the tort explains its most problematic aspects, including why it imposes obligations on non-contractual parties, ignores the role of the breaching promisor in causing the wrong, and treats her as the property of the original promisee. In order to remedy these problematic features, the tort should be restructured as one of mixed joint liability. Further, damages should be limited to those available in contract.

Suggested Citation

Swan, Sarah Lynnda, A New Tortious Interference with Contractual Relations: Gender and Erotic Triangles in Lumley v. Gye (August 29, 2011). Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, Vol. 35, 2012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1919102

Sarah Lynnda Swan (Contact Author)

Columbia University, Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

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