Making False & Disparaging Remarks to a Potential Employer/Client

I would like to see if I have a defamation case against a former employer.
I worked for a Virginia-based company until January when I was fired, without any reason given. There was some friction between myself and senior executives, but no one questioned the quality of my work, which was excellent.
Immediately following my termination, I met with an executive at the one client that I worked on while employed by this company. This person told me that at least two people at the company had made disparaging remarks about me. Most appalling, she said that one person there strongly hinted that my expense reports were not honest or accurate, which is a total and compete lie. This woman swore me to secrecy, but I am seething that this company would call me a thief to this client, with whom I was trying to secure employment at the time.
Do I have a case?

1 answer  |  asked Feb 15, 2003 10:42 PM [EST]  |  applies to New York

Answers (1)

David M. Lira
When Is It Defamation

Ex-employees can sometimes successfully sue former employers using a defamation theory if the employer made certain types of negative statements about the employee. However, especially in New York State, defamation claims are not an easy thing to win, in part because of First Amendment concerns. (From what I have read, defamation claims are much easier to prove outside of the US, especially in Europe.)

In New York, to bring a defamation claim you need to know who said what and when. That is often hard to come up with. One strategy used by employees is to hire a reference check firm (there are at least two that you can find on the web) to call the former employer, looking for a reference on you, to see what the employer says.

More generally, not all negative statements are defamation. Opinions, for example, are said not to be defamation. As a result, defamatory statements have to look more like statements of fact. Saying that an employee is "dishonest" might be considered opinion, and thus not defamation. Saying that an employee "padded expense accounts" is more likely to be defamation, but I hedge because if the statement started "we think," the result might be different, but maybe not.

posted by David M. Lira  |  Feb 17, 2003 08:46 AM [EST]

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