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Can You Sue a Former Employer for Defamation?

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Can You Sue a Former Employer for Defamation?

Defamation is one of the most complicated areas of personal injury law. Although you may be able to sue your former employer for defamation, it all depends on the context of the claims or statements made about you. Since defamation laws are complex, it's always advisable to work with an experienced defamation attorney from a reputable law firm like Morgan & Morgan, the largest personal injury law firm in the country.

But before we discuss how Morgan & Morgan defamation attorneys can help, let's first look at everything you need to know about defamation. We'll also discuss what counts as defamation, especially in the workplace, and what doesn't.

What Is Defamation?

The term “defamation” refers to a false statement made to damage an individual's reputation. Defamation comes in two main forms:


This refers to false statements made in writing about a particular individual or entity. You'll most likely find such statements in newspapers, magazines, emails, letters, text messages, etc. 


Slander refers to a false verbal statement about an individual or entity to damage their reputation.

It should be noted that the key difference between libel and slander is that the former refers to a written statement while the latter refers to a spoken statement. 

It is also worth noting that each state across the US has unique laws regarding such cases. However, in most states, when suing an individual or entity for defamation, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the statement:

  • was false or negligent;
  • harmed the plaintiff's reputation; and
  • is not privileged, meaning the defendant had no legal right to make the statement. 

Defamation cases are not usually the easiest to deal with. They involve a lot of twists and turns that only an experienced defamation attorney can help you navigate. Here are some of the key issues that arise from a defamation case. 

Whether the Statement Was a Fact or Opinion

You may not be able to sue the other party if the statement they made was based on their opinion but not a fact. This further explains why defamation lawsuits are usually tightly contested. The plaintiff or their attorney must prove that the other party made a false statement of fact. 

On the other hand, all the defendant has to do to avoid liability is to prove that they made the statement as an opinion but not a fact. This requirement applies even if the statement was harmful. Just as long as it was the defendant's opinion and not a fact, the plaintiff might not have any legal grounds to file a lawsuit. 

Whether the Statement Damaged Your Reputation

For the statement to qualify as defamation, you must be able to prove that it hurt your reputation. However, in some cases, you don't even have to prove that the statement damaged your reputation. Such a scenario occurs mostly when the statement is so bad that the court automatically assumes it damaged your reputation. 

For example, if someone wrongfully accuses you of sexual crimes, such a statement could ruin your reputation and career. The same applies to statements suggesting that you were or are involved in criminal activity. For such statements, you may not have to prove that they hurt your reputation. However, this primarily depends on the judge's decision.

Whether the Statement Is Considered a Privilege

There are two forms of privilege when then it comes to defamatory statements:

Absolute Privilege

Having this kind of privilege means you can make any false or harmful statement without worrying about being sued. For example, politicians enjoy absolute privilege during campaigns. As a result, they can make statements about their opponents without being sued. The same privilege comes into play during legislative debates - politicians may not be sued for statements made in such environments.

Qualified Privilege

Unlike absolute privilege, qualified privilege does not offer total protection against a defamation lawsuit. Instead, it provides protection up to a certain extent. For example, journalists and media houses enjoy a degree of qualified privilege when making certain statements. 

This, however, does not mean that they should be reckless with their statements because they risk facing a defamation lawsuit. The main purpose of qualified privilege is to allow the privileged party or individual to do their jobs effectively. 

For example, an investigative journalist can make certain statements about an individual or entity without risking a defamation lawsuit. In this case, the statement isn't made due to malice. Instead, it's made from the journalist's findings, even if the statements are not entirely true. 

The Damages Caused by the Defamatory Remarks

Even if the statements against you are false, you must prove that they damaged your reputation. That's the only way you may be able to claim compensation for the damages caused. However, as mentioned before, some statements may be too damaging, thus no need to prove actual damages. 

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  • What Can You Recover From a Defamation Lawsuit?

    If your defamation case meets the four requirements discussed earlier in this article, you may be eligible for compensation. However, the amount you may be able to recover as compensation usually depends on several factors. For example, the extent of damage determines the kind of compensation you may be entitled to.

    There are four main types of damages you may be able to recover in a defamation case. They include:

    Nominal Damages

    You may recover nominal damages if you are a victim of defamation but cannot prove that the defamatory statement harmed your reputation. As the name suggests, normal damages are usually far less than what most defamation lawsuits attract. This is because such plaintiffs can't prove damages, making it nearly impossible to calculate the exact amount they may be eligible for as compensation.

    For example, if you claim that your former employer's statement was the reason you lost your most recent job, but you can't prove that you actually lost your job, you may be able to recover nominal damages. 

    Actual Damages

    These damages cover past and future harm, including emotional distress. For instance, suppose your employer's statement would prevent you or make it difficult for you to get employed in the future. In that case, you may be able to recover actual damages if you file a defamation lawsuit against them.

    Special Damages

    You may also recover special damages such as loss of business, a job, or any other financial loss due to the defamatory statements made by your former employer or any other individual or entity.

    Punitive Damages

    The court might also award punitive damages to punish the defendant if they acted extremely negligently, causing the plaintiff harm. 

  • What Are The Things You Need to Know About Suing a Former Employer for Defamation?

    We might sound like a broken record when we say that defamation cases are complex, but that's just the truth. However, speaking with an experienced defamation attorney makes the entire process less complicated. Here are some important things you need to know.

    The laws used to decide defamation lawsuits vary from state to state. Therefore, what works in your state might not be effective in another state. For instance, what counts as a fact in one situation might be considered an opinion in another similar situation. 

    Regarding employment, your employer enjoys a certain degree of immunity from defamation lawsuits. Here's a hypothetical example of such a situation:

    John works as a cleaner at a grocery store. One morning the cashier at the store accuses John of sexual assault. As a result, John is fired from his job, but no investigations whatsoever are conducted to verify whether the cashier's statements were factual. Instead, the employer believes the cashier's statements and refuses to listen to John's version of the story.

    Months later, John applies for a new job. He has a brilliant resume and work history. All he has to do now is to include his former employer's contact as a reference. Unfortunately, when the hiring manager calls John's former employer, he discovers that he was fired over a sexual assault incident. Since the potential employer can't hire an employee with a history of sexual assault, John fails to secure the employment opportunity despite his qualifications. 

    In this case, he might decide to file a defamation lawsuit against his employer, claiming that the sexual assault claims ruined his chances of getting hired. His claim could be valid if he was wrongfully accused of sexual assault. However, in their defense, John's former employer could claim that they didn't explicitly claim that John was guilty of sexual assault. Instead, they could claim that they were only expressing their opinion, stating that John could not be trusted around other colleagues. 

    This could be a case of opinion versus fact. An experienced defamation lawyer can break down the specifics of such a case, separating opinions from facts. 

  • What Can You Do if You Have a Defamation Claim Against Your Former Employer?

    It's important to know what to do if you have a reason to believe that you have a valid defamation claim against your former employer. Since defamation cases are complex and vary from state to state, the most reasonable thing is to contact an experienced defamation attorney for a case evaluation.

    At Morgan & Morgan, we offer free, no-obligation case evaluation for all our clients. So if you believe that your former employer made misleading statements about you, affecting your ability to get or even keep a job, all you have to do is contact us right away. We will review your case and advise you on the next steps forward.

    Suppose you have a valid claim against your former employer. In that case, our defamation attorneys will begin the investigation, ensuring that you have enough evidence to hold the other party responsible. Speaking of investigations, they usually require a lot of time and resources. But that's not something you should be concerned about, especially when working with Morgan & Morgan defamation lawyers. We are the country's largest personal injury law firm, meaning we have some of the most powerful resources needed to investigate such claims.

    Once we've built a strong case against your former employer, we will file a defamation lawsuit against them, effectively kick-starting the discovery process. During discovery, our attorneys will help draft questions the other party needs to answer in writing and under oath. They will also help prepare depositions and collect important documentation from the other party.

    After building a strong case, our attorneys will begin negotiations for a reasonable settlement. We will keep your best interests in mind throughout the process, ensuring you get the compensation you need and deserve. And if the other party is unwilling to settle, the case will go to trial. 

    Remember, the burden of proof is even heavier on the plaintiff when a defamation case goes to trial. This is because the plaintiff needs to prove that the defendant actually harmed and defamed them. As a result, such cases often turn into an opinion versus fact battle.

    This should give you one more reason to work with not just any attorney but an experienced one. You need an attorney who can navigate such complex legal processes and create the perfect legal strategy to win. That's exactly what you get when you hire Morgan & Morgan.

    No amount of intimidation from the other party will prevent us from fighting for your rights. In a defamation lawsuit, you'll most likely have to deal with individuals who blame you for their actions.

    We know how manipulative the other party can be when the reality of their actions finally sinks in. This is because they know that if found guilty of defamation, they may need to part with thousands or even millions as compensation for the damages you've incurred due to their reckless statements and actions. 

  • Contact Morgan & Morgan Defamation Lawyers For a Free Consultation

    We understand that defamation cases are complex. But that's not something you should be concerned about because we're here to help. Fill out our confidential, free consultation form, and one of our representatives will be happy to discuss your case.

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