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What you need to know about defamation

Most people know defamation as false statements or writings that ruin reputations, but in the workplace, it's more than a mere matter of pride. Defamatory remarks can compromise people's careers and cripple future business dealings.

In California, the law is very specific about what constitutes defamation and how workers can protect themselves from the negative ramifications of such actions.

What Is Defamation?

Slander (oral remarks) and libel (written remarks) are both forms of defamation. The law defines these remarks to include the publication of statements that are false, unprivileged and naturally predisposed to injure or cause special damage.

To establish fault in a defamation case, you need to prove that the libel or slander in question fulfilled the preceding characteristics. You also need to demonstrate that the perpetrator either acted negligently or intentionally in making the remarks.

Workplace Defamation

Technology is transforming the way modern courts evaluate defamation claims. Anyone can spread defamatory statements far and wide thanks to the proliferation of social media and other platforms. Although some digital defamers attempt to argue that they're simply publishing their opinions, the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes that you may still have grounds for a suit if you can convince a court that the remarks were intended as statements of fact.

Defamation in professional settings has led to terminations, hampered profitability and soured otherwise-promising contracts. Even if you feel that your argument is obviously sound, countering libel or slander takes hard work and diligent case management. Because cases can get thrown out on technicalities, like whether you proved that a defamer actually published the harmful statements, it's critical to prepare thoroughly.

Free Speech Or Defamation?

Particularly for employees in public interest fields such as health care and education, there can be complicated legal battles early on in the case. The California legislature has enacted a statute meant to ensure people will not "be dragged through the courts because [they] exercised [their] constitutional rights" to free speech.[1]

The law's title is "anti-SLAPP," where SLAPP stands for "Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation." In essence, it says that when people speak "in connection with a public issue," such speech shall not be deemed defamation.[2]

Employers have increasingly been using the anti-SLAPP law to defend against wrongfully terminated employees' defamation claims, even in the private sector. For example, when a private university made statements about firing its football coach, the court said the coach's termination and the reasons for it were important issues to a lot of people, and the coach's defamation claim was dismissed after the university brought an anti-SLAPP motion.[3]

Trial attorneys Therese Lawless and Barbara Lawless are ready to get your case on the right track. They've helped a high-ranking Santa Clara IT worker win an anti-SLAPP motion and earn a $5 million settlement after being accused of wrongdoing. Their firm also used forensic testing to secure a $1.15 million settlement for an employee who was fired due to baseless allegations that he broke confidentiality. Discover where your case stands by contacting them today.


[1] Varian Med Systems, Inc. v. Delfino, 35 Cal.4th 180, 193 (2005) (referring to Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 425.16).

[2] Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 425.16(b).

[3] 154 Cal. App. 4th 97, 102-103 (2007).

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