Employment Defamation: If you have experienced defamation while at work from a coworker or supervisor, our Employment Lawyers can help. Essentially, defamation occurs when an employer makes a knowingly false statement about you outside of your presence and the statement(s) injures your professional or personal reputation. Employers always assert that the statements were made during the course of your employment and thus it is not liable. Also, employers often use truth as a defense to defamation.
We begin our analysis with a brief review of the common-law tort of defamation. A defamatory statement is defined as a communication that tends to “harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him….” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) QSP, Inc. v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 256 Conn. 343, 356, 773 A.2d 906 (2001), quoting 3 Restatement (Second), Torts § 559, p. 156 (1977).
To succeed on a defamation claim in Connecticut, a plaintiff must show that: (1) defendant made a false statement about plaintiff; (2) defendant published the statement to a third party; and (3) plaintiff’s reputation was thereby injured. See Torosyan v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharms., Inc., 234 Conn. 1, 662 A.2d 89, 103 (1995).
Several courts in other states, however, have carved out an exception to that rule in the context of employment. These courts have concluded that publication to the third party by the defamed former employee, or “self-publication,” may satisfy the publication requirement because the person effectively is “compelled” to publish the defamatory statement to prospective employers when the person is asked why he or she left his or her former employment. See, e.g., Lewis v. Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, 389 N.W.2d 876, 886-87 (Minn.1986). These courts reason that it is fair to hold an employer liable for compelled self-publication because it is reasonably foreseeable that the employee, in seeking new employment, will inevitably be asked why he or she left his or her former employment. See id.
Connecticut recognizes that intra-corporate communications may satisfy the publication element of a defamation claim. Id. Although otherwise defamatory intra-corporate statements are usually privileged and thus an employer is protected from liability, malice on the part of an employer-defendant in making such a communication defeats the privilege. See Gaudio v. Griffin Health Servs. Corp., 249 Conn. 523, 733 A.2d 197, 210–11 (1999); Torosyan, 662 A.2d at 103–04; see also Bleich v. Ortiz, 196 Conn. 498, 493 A.2d 236, 240 (1985).
Some states have also expanded the publication element of a defamation claim in the employment context by adopting the doctrine of compelled self-publication defamation. See, e.g., Churchey v. Adolph Coors Co., 759 P.2d 1336, 1343–45 (Colo.1988) (en banc ); Lewis v. Equitable Life Assurance Soc’y, 389 N.W.2d 876, 888 (Minn.1986); Belcher v. Little, 315 N.W.2d 734, 737–38 (Iowa 1982); McKinney v. County of Santa Clara, 110 Cal.App.3d 787, 168 Cal.Rptr. 89, 93–95 (1980). This doctrine allows compelled self-publication by a plaintiff-employee to substitute for the traditional requirement of publication by a defendant-employer in cases where the compulsion is reasonably foreseeable. See Lewis, 389 N.W.2d at 888.