South-Western Legal Studies in Business

No Defamation Cause for Fired Employee; Related Parties Had Right to Know
Description Appeals court held that an employee who was fired for falsifying company documents had no cause of action for defamation. Supervisory personnel at the company, and an outside contractor that worked with the employer, had a need to know the information and were immune from suit.
Topic Employment Law
Key Words Defamation; Publication; Termination
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Gray had worked for AT&T for two months when she missed work for ten days due to what she claimed was a non-work related illness or injury. She filed a company form about treatment of her condition, but inconsistencies were noted. Upon investigation, AT&T learned that a doctor Gray listed as treating her had not seen her at all. She was fired for falsifying documents. The related paperwork was seen by various supervisors and by Gates McDonald, a company AT&T used regularly to process unemployment compensation claims. She sued for defamation, contending that AT&T published statements that she committed disability fraud. The trial court dismissed her suit and she appealed.

Affirmed. To establish a prima facie case of defamation, the claimant must show six elements: 1) publication, 2) of a defamatory statement, 3) that identifies the claimant, 4) that is false, 5) that is published with the requisite degree of fault, and 6) damages the claimant’s reputation. In Missouri, inter-corporate communications made in the regular course of business do not constitute publication and are immune. The supervisors at AT&T were privileged to see the material, as was Gates McDonald, the contracting company that had a “need to know” such information.

Citation Gray v. AT&T Corp., --- F.3d --- (2004 WL 190436, 8th Cir., 2004)

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