Oral and Written Criticism of Employee Who Was Fired Is Not Defamation
Description Trial court dismissed a defamation suit by a former employee who was subject to written and oral criticism, that was shared among various office personnel. In New York, such speech has strong protection as opinion and has a qualified privilege unless abused.
Topic Torts
Key Words Defamation; Qualified Privilege; Opinion
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Brattis worked for Rainbow for less than a year before she was dismissed. A new supervisor was appointed over her. He told her that he wanted to bring in his own people. Soon after he began work, he wrote a negative evaluation of her work, which was seen by other employees, and she was fired. She sued for defamation, claiming that criticism of her in print and spoken was defamatory. Rainbow moved to dismiss the case, contending that the speech was protected as opinion and because evaluations of employees have qualified privilege in defamation actions.
Decision Motion granted. The New York constitution provides for absolute protection for opinions and "the evaluation of an employee's performance, even an unsatisfactory evaluation is a matter of opinion that cannot be objectively categorized as true or false and cannot be actionable." Further, "defendants enjoy a qualified privilege with respect to any of their allegedly defamatory communications in this case." Statements made in the employment context have such protection. "To overcome the qualified privilege defense, the plaintiff must show both that the allegedly defamatory statements were false and that the defendants abused their qualified privilege." For that to happen, the defendants must have acted with malice, with reckless disregard for the truth, or acted outside the scope of the privilege, none of which apply here.
Citation Brattis v. Rainbow Advertising Holdings, L.L.C., 2000 WL 702921 (Slip Copy, S.D. N.Y., 2000)

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