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Q: Is there a good case to sue for defamation of character? ( Answered,   2 Comments )
Subject: Is there a good case to sue for defamation of character?
Category: Relationships and Society
Asked by: thejake-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 08 Aug 2005 12:33 PDT
Expires: 07 Sep 2005 12:33 PDT
Question ID: 553174
I would like to know if I have a case for defamation of character? 

A former co-worker has been bad mouthing me, and I just learned that
he penned a short farewell statement and handed it out to everyone but
management at the company. He phrased this message so that the first
letter of each line spelled out "greg is an asshole" and signed his
name to it (typewritten). Since his departure, we have heard that he
is calling into the company and spreading wild rumors all designed to
reak havoc. Included in these are statements that he has made to my
new employees to the effect that I am out to get them.

I did not seek to oust him or pursue his old job. Rather, he was doing
things that threatened our companies profitability (e.g. hiring
felons). It was not hard to pull the curtain back and show that this
guy was incompetent. When he resigned the CEO asked me to take the
job. I can see how he might think it was "part of the plan" but it was
not. More important, I never treated with anything less than business
professionalism. Now that he is messing with me in such a chicken-sh__
manner, I am wondering if i can go after him legally with any hope of

Subject: Re: Is there a good case to sue for defamation of character?
Answered By: hagan-ga on 08 Aug 2005 13:40 PDT
Hello, Greg.  It sounds as though your former co-worker has indeed
been slandering you.  But whether that slander is actionable, and
worth pursuing, is a different issue.  First let's look at the basics
of "defamation," that is, libel and slander, and then we can review
the elements of your claim and whether you have suffered damage.

Defamation is the generic, catch-all term for an attack on your
reputation.  It is divided into two categories -- oral and written.  A
written attack is called libel.  An oral attack is called slander.

"Defamation is a general term for the false attack on your character
or reputation through either libel or slander. Libel is a term
describing visual defamation, usually in the form of lies in print, or
misleading or deceptive photographs.
Libel exposes or subjects you to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or
disgrace, or causes you to be shunned or avoided, or injures you in
your occupation.
Slander is a term describing defamation that you hear, not see,
usually in the form of someone talking trash about you or spreading or
repeating lies and unfounded rumor.
Slander is an oral statement that tends to injur you in respect to
your office, profession, trade or business. The statement or
statements generally suggest that you lack integrity, honesty,
incompetence, or that you possess other reprehensible personal

Here, you have been subjected to both oral and written attacks. 
However, the written attack (the one calling you an "asshole") is
pretty clearly a statement of OPINION, not fact.  Only false
statements that purport to be statements of fact can constitute libel
or slander.  An opinion _cannot_ be defamatory according to the United
States Supreme Court.  _Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc._, 418 U.S. 323

You state that the remaining attacks have been in the form of
telephone calls, "spreading wild rumors," and statements that you are
"out to get" your employees.  I will assume, for purposes of
discussion, that his "wild rumors" are intended to be taken as
statements of fact, not opinion.  Again, if they were statements of
mere opinion, they cannot be defamatory.

Since they were oral statements, they would be slander if they were
defamatory.  There are two kinds of slander:  ordinary slander, and
slander "per se."

Slander per se is a false statement that falls into one of these categories:
--imputations of criminal conduct 
--allegations injurious to another in their trade, business, or profession 
--imputations of loathsome disease 
--imputations of unchastity in a woman

If you can prove that you are a victim of slander per se, then you
don't have to prove that the slander caused you a particular amount of
monetary harm.  Instead, the kinds of statements above, that
constitute slander per se, are PRESUMED to cause harm.  If the slander
does not fall into one of those categories, then you have to prove
monetary damage in order to proceed with a case.

It appears to me that the bad guy has indeed been making "allegations
injurious to another [you] in their trade, business, or profession." 
Certainly telling somebody's employees that they are "out to get
them," assuming that it was intended as a statement of fact rather
than opinion, would hurt that person's business.  (Although, this is
one of those grey-area statements that's hard to categorize.  The
former co-worker could plausibly claim to have been offering only his
opinion about your general character, and not a "provably false
assertion" about a fact.

But let's assume that you can prove that the former co-worker has been
making false assertions, saying that they were facts.  Such as a FALSE
statement that "Greg did X, Y, and Z to ME while I was there, and I
heard him say he was going to get you," or words to that effect. 
Those are NOT opinions.  They are supposed to be statements of FACT,
and if they are untrue, they are slanderous.

But that still doesn't end our analysis.  Even though you don't HAVE
to prove monetary damage, from my own experience I can tell you that
most judges and jurors will look askance at a case of defamation when
there hasn't been any lost income, lost business, or other money
damage.  Sure, the case will probably not be dismissed out of hand, as
it would be if only ordinary slander with no out-of-pocket loss were
involved.  But that doesn't make bringing such an action worth your

From my own experience as a lawyer in California for 11 years, I
HIGHLY recommend avoiding litigation when at all possible.  It is
deeply, deeply frustrating to be victimized and feel like you have no
recourse.  I know this.  But being the plaintiff in a lawsuit can be
the most frustrating, time-consuming, energy-sapping, stressful and
infuriating experience of a lifetime.  It's bad enough when the
lawsuit is necessary in order to recover actual money that somebody is
out-of-pocket.  When there has been no quantifiable money lost, and
the lawsuit is brought instead to vindicate your rights and to stop
harassment like this, it almost always ends up being more stressful
than the original behavior.

I particularly recommend this Answer to another Question here on
Google Answers.  Please pay particular attention to the last section,
discussing the advisability of proceeding with a defamation action.  I
heartily endorse its sentiments.

All of that notwithstanding, it does appear to me that you have a
case.  And even though bringing a full-blown legal case is probably
not a good idea, you might consider hiring an attorney for the sole
purpose of writing a cease-and-desist letter on attorney letterhead. 
$100-200 for a half-hour's time, and you're no worse off.

Best of luck.  I know how frustrating this can be, and I sincerely
hope things improve.  Let me know if I can add any clarification or
any additional assistance.

Request for Answer Clarification by thejake-ga on 08 Aug 2005 15:03 PDT

Clarification of Answer by hagan-ga on 09 Aug 2005 05:27 PDT
You're welcome!
Subject: Re: Is there a good case to sue for defamation of character?
From: daniel2d-ga on 08 Aug 2005 21:28 PDT
Since he calling his old work place I'd get management involved.  Have
their attorney send him a letter to stop his conduct which is
distruptive to the work place (e.g. misuse of the telephone which can
be a criminal charge.)
Subject: Re: Is there a good case to sue for defamation of character?
From: grthumongous-ga on 10 Aug 2005 19:54 PDT
The terms "felon" and "felony" are pretty broad. 
Examples being DUI in 1976 or Enron-style accountants in 2000.
Do you want to enumerate the felony(s) by these fellas?

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