The legal claim of "defamation" allows, in some circumstances, for someone who has suffered harm to their reputation due to false statements made about them to recover monetary compensation from the person who made the false statements. In a defamation case, the plaintiff who was the subject of the false statements must prove the following things to prevail in their lawsuit:
- The defendant made written or oral statements that "tend to lower the plaintiff in the esteem of any substantial and respectable group, even though it may be quite a small minority."
- People other than the plaintiff must have seen or heard the statements; and
- The statements must be false.
Defamation claims arise in the employment context in a variety of ways. One type of claim occurs when a job applicant's past employer lies to a prospective employer about the applicant. Courts give employers some leeway to say inaccurate things to other employers seeking a job reference. However, if an employer knowingly lies about a prior employee—such as by saying that the employee was fired for stealing when the employer knows that the employee resigned and never stole anything—the employee can have a defamation claim.
Another type of defamation claim can arise when a supervisor lies to others about an employee. For example, in one case the director of a summer camp lied to others who worked for the summer camp about receiving a complaint from the State that an archery counselor acted inappropriately with boys at the camp. The court determined that the archery counselor could bring a defamation claim against the director and the board of directors of the camp.Remedies for Defamation
Victims of defamation are entitled to monetary compensation for the emotional distress, reputational harm, and other damages that they have suffered because of the defamatory statements. If you have suffered harm because an employer is defaming you, please contact the New Hampshire Employee Rights Group to learn more about your rights.