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Defamation Employment: Cases Summarized By Injury Lawyer

The cases below are a compilation of cases from the Virginia Supreme Court summarized by Brien Roche dealing with the topic of defamation employment and the related topic of intentional torts. For more information on defamation see the pages on Wikipedia.

Defamation Employment-Statutes

See Va. Code § 8.01-46.1 as to disclosure of employment information.

Defamation Employment-Cases

2007 Raytheon Tech. Servs. Co. v. Hyland, 273 Va. 292, 641 S.E.2d 84.

Defamation employment: defamation action brought by an employee, the court held that false statements of fact made maliciously in a performance evaluation may be the subject of a defamation claim. The qualified privilege may shield these claims but not if they are made for a malicious purpose.

2006 Government Micro Res., Inc. v. Jackson, 271 Va. 29, 624 S.E.2d 63.

Defamation employment:former employee sued employer alleging that Chairman of the Board of employer said that plaintiff had mismanaged company, had lost an exorbitant amount of money, and that he was fired as a result of that. In the alternative, plaintiff alleged that the same individual said that the plaintiff had been fired because he had lost $3,000,000. Those are deemed to be statements of fact, not statements of opinion. Evidence supported the assertion that they were made with actual malice because the defendant allegedly knew they were not true when they were made. Jury verdict of $5,000,000 compensatory damages was deemed not to be excessive considering all of the factors of damages that a jury might consider.

2004 Union of Needletrades, Indus. & Textile Employees, AFL-CIO v. Jones, 268 Va. 512, 603 S.E.2d 920.

Defamation employment. In this common-law defamation action by former local union administrator against the Union, the alleged defamatory statement was that there were indications of financial malpractice at the local union. In order to recover in this case the plaintiff had to prove that statement was false. In a defamation action involving a non-media defendant, the plaintiff must prove the falsity of the statement since the plaintiff is required to establish negligence with respect to such falsity. In addition, alleged defamation made in the context of an employment relationship is afforded a qualified privilege and therefore, the plaintiff must also prove that the defendant acted with actual malice. Actual malice is behavior prompted by motives of personal spite, ill will independent of the occasion upon which the communication was made. In this case, the plaintiff failed to prove the statement was false.

1995 Williams v. Garraghty, 249 Va. 224, 455 S.E.2d 209.

Defamation employment: subordinate alleged sexual harassment as to superior. Subordinate wrote memorandum setting forth sexual harassment. Although this memorandum contained some opinions, it was fact based and as such was not constitutionally protected on the grounds of containing opinions. Plaintiff in this instance must prove statements were false and that defendant knew statements were false or that, believing them to be true, defendant lacked reasonable grounds for such belief or acted negligently in failing to ascertain facts. Plaintiff’s claims for emotional distress were not barred under Workers’ Compensation Act since there was no injury by accident.

1993 Southeastern Tidewater Opportunity Project v. Bade, 246 Va. 273, 435 S.E.2d 131.

Defamation employment: plaintiff was employed as comptroller for defendant. Lucas was executive director of defendant. Lucas terminated plaintiff’s employment by delivering to him letter stating that defendant’s status had been jeopardized because of actions of plaintiff which plaintiff must have known were against law. This letter is protected under qualified privilege since it was written in context of employment relationship. Such privilege is lost if plaintiff proves by clear and convincing evidence that defamatory words were spoken with common-law malice. Common-law malice is behavior actuated by motive of personal spite, ill will, independent of occasion upon which communication was made or that communication was made with such gross indifference and recklessness as to amount to wanton and willful disregard of rights of plaintiff. Plaintiff failed to meet burden of proving common-law malice by clear and convincing evidence.

1991 Smalls v. Wright, 241 Va. 52, 399 S.E.2d 805.

Defamation employment: defendant wrote to police chief complaining about conduct of plaintiff police officer in conduct of his duties. Communication made in good faith on subject of which communicating party has interest or owes duty, and is qualifiedly privileged if communication is made to party who has corresponding interest or duty. Those requirements are met here. Qualified privilege, however, is lost if plaintiff proves by clear and convincing evidence that defamatory words were spoken with common-law malice. In this instance jury issue was presented on that question.

1976 Tweedy v. J.C. Penney & Co., 216 Va. 596, 221 S.E.2d 152.

Defamation employment: where qualified privilege exists, plaintiff must prove actual malice. Qualified privilege referred to in following relationships: store employee customer; insurance adjustor and insured; employer and employee.

1970 Kroger Co. v. Young, 210 Va. 564, 172 S.E.2d 720.

Employer made statement to employee as to why another employee was being discharged. Protected by qualified privilege. Where qualified privilege applies, plaintiff must prove malice to prevail.

1944 M. Rosenberg & Sons v. Craft, 182 Va. 512, 29 S.E.2d 375.

Normally communications from third party to employer are not privileged unless employer has interest in subject matter.

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Defamation Employment: Cases Summarized By Injury Lawyer

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