When an employment relationship does not work out, you want to leave the bad experience behind you.
But what happens when an employer tells lies about you that follow you and tarnish your reputation?
If your employer does not have a defense, you can sue them for defamation of character.
Proving defamation of character is often difficult.
But our California employment attorneys have the experience and passion at Workplace Rights Law Group to help you win the relief you deserve against an employer’s reckless words.
Contact us today to get started!
What Is Defamation of Character?
Simply put, defamation of character occurs when an individual tells a damaging lie about you to another person. Defamation is a tort, and its subcategories include libel and slander.
In California, an individual commits slander when they share (by speaking) with a third party certain false information about someone.
False information subject to a slander lawsuit can include:
- Claims a person was indicted, convicted, or punished for a crime;
- Claims a person has an infectious disease or a disease that carries a stigma;
- Claims there is something wrong with a person’s ability to handle their professional, official, or business obligations;
- Claims there is a problem with a person’s sexual health, activities, or history; and
- Claims that involve information that would naturally cause damage to another person.
Conversations involving harmful gossip can spread all too quickly in the workplace and the surrounding community.
You can put a stop to this by filing a civil lawsuit against your employer’s slander.
Libel is slander in written or permanently recorded, visual form.
An individual commits libel if they expose you to hatred, contempt, ridicule, public abuse, shunning, or professional harm by telling a lie through:
- Effigy, or
- Other fixed, visual representations.
An employer could easily commit libel or slander by providing your prospective employers with a negative professional reference.
Filing a Defamation of Character Lawsuit Against Your Employer
Did your former employer tell prospective employers that you were fired for committing an egregious offense, and now you struggle to find work?
Did you miss out on a promotion because your supervisor falsely claimed that you violated company policies? You can sue for this behavior and any other damaging lies told about you.
You have one year to file a defamation lawsuit. Depending on the nature of your lawsuit, you can win:
- General damages to compensate you for your for loss of reputation, shame, and pain;
- Special damages to compensate you for your actual financial losses related to the defamation;
- Exemplary damage to punish the slanderer for sharing false information with “actual malice;” and
- An injunction to stop the defamatory behavior.
Proving Defamation of Character in the Workplace
To win your defamation case, you need to prove the elements of libel or slander listed above, your damages, and that your employer does not have a defense.
Proving the Elements of Libel or Slander
A large part of your workplace defamation case is providing evidence of the lies your employer told to others.
You can achieve this through:
- Witness testimony,
- Employer correspondence,
- Personnel records, and
- other relevant documents.
Through tools such as legal discovery, an experienced employment attorney can compel your employer and others to turn over defamatory communications that you cannot access on your own.
Proving Your Damages
The California Court of Appeal in Varian Medical Systems, Inc. v. Delfino, noted that if a defamation case does not involve “libel per se,” the plaintiff has to prove they suffered special damages to maintain their lawsuit.
Libel per se means that the defamatory nature of a written lie needs no explanation.
To safeguard your case as much as possible, you should always have proof of special damages (if possible).
You can prove your special damages through receipts, invoices, wage statements, and other financial or legal documents that show exactly what you have lost.
Disproving Your Employer’s Defenses
Your employer can avoid liability for defamation if they can prove that their communications were privileged or true.
A communication is privileged if it was made to:
- Carry out an official duty;
- Participate in an official or legal proceeding;
- Provide a report to an official, public journal; or
- Inform an interested person.
The defense of informing an interested person includes communications from one employer to another about a person’s job performance and qualifications.
This can be a tricky hurdle to clear, but your employer cannot claim this defense if they cannot prove that they spread offending information without malice.
Whether the defamation defenses apply can depend on many factors and details.
Hiring a skilled attorney is your best option for disproving your employer’s defenses and moving your case forward.
Our Attorneys Can Set the Record Straight in Your Workplace Dispute
Lies about you and your professional abilities are infuriating — even more so when they hurt your chances at professional advancement.
At Workplace Rights Law Group, our mission is to protect the rights of California employees.
We have almost 75 years of experience, and we know how to defeat unethical employers in the courtroom and at the negotiation table.