Your professional reputation is one of your most valuable assets. If an employer or former employer unfairly harms you in this area, it can cost you a job, a client, or other financial opportunities. From his Manhattan Beach office, employment law attorney Vincent Calderone has two decades of experience protecting the reputations of workers in Orange County and other areas of Southern California. You may be entitled to compensation from a former employer who has damaged you in this way.Pursue a California Lawsuit Based on Defamation
If an entity spreads harmful and false information about a former worker, the individual may be able to bring a defamation case. In California, defamation is an intentional tort with four elements that must be shown to establish liability:
- The defendant “published” a fact;
- The fact is false and unprivileged;
- The type of information tends to harm the subject’s reputation; and
- The defendant was at least negligent in publishing the fact.
In this context, the term “publish” does not literally mean printed on a tangible page but simply communicated in some matter. Communications that are written or otherwise have some permanence are considered libel. A passing conversation, gesture, or other non-recorded form of publication is called slander. The defendant does not have to release the false information to a wide audience. A former employer simply telling one other person is enough to constitute publication. The individual receiving the information must understand that the statement is defamatory and recognize the specific person whom it concerns.
For a plaintiff to sustain a claim, the defendant must have said something that is objectively untrue. Pure opinions are not defamation. For instance, if your former company tells a prospective employer that you sexually harassed a co-worker, the element would likely be met if you did not engage in this conduct. However, if a past supervisor says you are a poor worker, this likely is only an opinion.
In some cases, a plaintiff may need to prove that the statement was not privileged. Although California offers some protection for good-faith mistakes, the law does not cover plainly false statements knowingly made by a former employer.
Regarding the third element, one category of defamation that is nearly always actionable is harm to a person’s professional reputation or business. Showing that a former employer lied about your job performance is likely sufficient to meet this element. Similarly, it probably would be satisfied if you prove that the company fabricated a falsity as an excuse to fire you.
In many employment defamation cases, the defendant has intentionally published some kind of lie about the plaintiff. The last element may play a more prominent role in cases when the defendant did not specifically intend to defame the plaintiff, but in publishing the fact acted negligently in disregarding the possibility that the information might not be true.
Individuals who successfully bring a defamation lawsuit against their former employers may be entitled to collect general damages for the type of defamation proven, special damages that are unique to the plaintiff, or, in some cases, punitive damages against defendants who acted with a higher degree of malice.Discuss Your Employment Case with a Los Angeles Attorney
Even if you didn’t end a job on the best terms, your former employer does not have a right to spread false rumors about you. Proving a defamation claim requires extensive knowledge of California law and the resourcefulness to find the necessary evidence. Tenacious discrimination lawyer Vincent Calderone has the experience to help workers in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas whose reputations have been harmed by unscrupulous employers. Whether you are from Riverside County, Ventura County, or elsewhere in Southern California, you can fill out our contact form or call (424) 348-8290 to schedule a free consultation about your potential claim.