Defamation or slander or both ???

i am a self-employed truck driver. in todays troubling times it is becoming increasingly difficult to be successful in my industry. After 7 months of struggling to make ends meet working for the company i had contracted with i decided to terminate my contract and pursue another opportunity in my area. Today while in orientation with my new company my previous terminal manager walked in to my new office. After a brief conversation with the safety director he proceeded to ask one of the dispatchers outside where i heard him mention my name and then proceeded to "trash talk" me to my new co-worker.
After he left and my orientation was over i walked around the office introducing myself to my new co-workers. When i introduced myself to the above formentioned co-worker he was taken back at the mention of my name. I proceeded to tell him what i had heard earlier in the day and he immediately began to apologize and assure me that it would not affect my employment. As i understand it i believe this may be defamation or possibly slander or both. Sorry for being long winded and i appreciate your response.

1 answer  |  asked May 6, 2009 9:38 PM [EST]  |  applies to Pennsylvania

Answers (1)

Christopher Ezold
The question generally is whether the defamation is "per se" or not.

Before I respond to your inquiry, I must state that we have not spoken, I have not reviewed the relevant documents and facts, and I do not represent you. Therefore, my discussion below is not a legal opinion, but is informational only. Finally, my discussion applies only to issues to which Pennsylvania or Federal law apply, unless otherwise specified.

That being said, the question generally is whether the defamation is "per se" or not. If your former employer's defamation included words that impute (1) criminal offense, (2) loathsome disease, (3) business misconduct, or
(4) serious sexual misconduct, then you will need to prove actual harm (i.e. harm to your reputation, etc.). If your employer's defamation is not 'per se,' that is, includes words that defame you, but not in the four categories listed above, then you will have to prove not only actual harm, but 'special harm.' 'Special harm' is essentially money damages - loss of a job, contract, etc.

In this case, your employer does not appear to have reduced your pay, terminated you or otherwise reacted negatively to the defamation. If you have not suffered ANY damages, then you do not have a legal claim for the defamation. If you suffer only reputational damages, and the defamation is not 'per se,' then you will not have a legal claim.

So, the issue is to determine what EXACTLY was said by your employer to see if it is 'per se' defamation. The exact, specific words are always necessary. Next, you need to determine if you suffered reputational damages and/or money damages.

I will not that if your employer trash talked you, but stated it as his opinion only, there is likely no claim. Furthermore, if your employer was telling the truth, then you will have no claim.

However, it is likely your employer was claiming some type of business misconduct/slandering your ability to do your job. If so, and you can show ANY reputational damage, even if you do not lose your job, then you will likely have a claim of defamation against your employer (and if you lose your job, a claim for tortious interference with contract).

GENERALLY, YOU HAVE ONLY ONE (1) YEAR TO BRING THESE CLAIMS! You should determine the words said, the damages flowing from the words and the dates they were said, and see an attorney immediately if you believe you have a case. One year is actually very little time to start litigation.

Finally, in reality, your former employer is likely slandering you elsewhere - you should immediately investigate whether he has slandered you to other employers, industry members, common acquaintances, etc., in order to 'stop the bleeding.'

If you would like to discuss this matter further, please feel free to contact me at the below address(es) or number.

/Christopher E. Ezold/
Nancy O'Mara Ezold, P.C.
One Belmont Avenue,
Suite 501
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004
(610) 660-5585

posted by Christopher Ezold  |  May 7, 2009 09:18 AM [EST]

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