can we sue for defamation? we may have proof

My wife recently discovered that her former employer (the business manager) provided negative references about her to prospective employers which may have damaged her reputation and prevented her from getting hired from any employers in the industry. The business manager not only gave negative feedback, but she also entered a code on their computer system (viewable by other employers in the industry) which indicated my wife was not hirable and that she left the company without any notice. My wife was actually a good performer and hard-worker, but had to leave her job to tend to a family emergency back in her home country and she did in fact give at least a week notice. My wife found out about this negative reference when one of the hiring managers from a new prospective employer told my wife about it. Not totally believing the business managers feedback, the hiring manager also asked other people from the previous employer for their testimonies and she actually received positive feedback. My wife was just hired by the new firm, but because of the negative reference, we believe this is the reason my wife was unemployed for about 6 months. She went on numerous interviews with firms looking to hire, but had not heard back which was strange since she was well-qualified and had done well on her interviews. The hiring manager had asked us not to take any action yet. She was going to try to clear this up for my wife with her previous employer. But we are very upset about his and would like to know if we have a claim here. Can we sue the business manager for defamation?

We suspect that the business manager provided negative feedback out of spite because a few months after my wife left the previous employer, the business manager saw her working for a different firm.

1 answer  |  asked Sep 21, 2005 3:08 PM [EST]  |  applies to New York

Answers (1)

David M. Lira
Suing an Employer for Defamation

It is possible to sue an employer for defamation, but you need to understand that defamation claims are very difficult to succeed on.

Generally, you have a better chance at successfully suing an employer for defamation when the defamatory statement is made to someone outside of the employer's workplace, such as when a prospective employer contacts a former employer for a reference.

The allegedly defamatory statement should to be fact based, as opposed to opinion. Generally, opinion cannot be the basis of a defamation claim.

The statement also needs to be false. Truth is an absolute defense to defamation.

Thus, a statement such as "On average, she was absent one in ten workdays while working for us" is more likely to result in a finding of defamation, if we assume the statement is false, than a statement such as "Her attendence record wasn't very good."

In New York State, you need the exact words to even begin a defamation case. To win the case, you need someone who heard the words to testify at trial. Of course, if the defamation is in writing, the writing largely substitutes for the testimony.

posted by David M. Lira  |  Sep 22, 2005 09:58 AM [EST]

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