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What Are Unlawful Defamations?

When an employer makes statements or writes information about you that damages your character or your reputation, you may have experienced defamation. You should know that you have rights as an employee, and you could be eligible to file a claim to hold your current or former employer accountable and to seek compensation for the harm to your reputation. In order to understand the types of actions or behaviors that constitute unlawful defamations in Massachusetts and Connecticut, it is critical to learn more about defamation and the forms it can take. Our employment law attorneys in Massachusetts and Connecticut can provide you with the information you need.

Understanding Defamation

The term defamation, or defamation of character, can be understood broadly as “a statement that injures a third party’s reputation,” according to the Cornell Legal Information Institute (LII). While defamation is often used more generally to refer to both spoken and written statements that can harm or damage a person’s reputation or character, it is important to understand that defamation is a kind of umbrella term that includes both libel and slander. Both libel and slander are forms of defamation, but libel occurs when defamatory statements are made in print, while slander occurs when defamatory statements are spoken or made orally.

While each state has its own laws concerning defamation and interpretations of libel and slander laws specifically, the general elements of an unlawful defamation claim must include the following elements:

  • There was a false statement of fact that;
  • That false statement of fact was communicated to a third party orally or in print; and
  • Person who is the subject of the false statement of fact was harmed in some capacity by that false statement of fact.

Specific Requirements for Certain Types of Defamation Cases

Both federal and state courts have interpreted defamation laws, and there are specific requirements that must be met in certain cases in addition to the elements outlined above, or there are limitations of those elements depending on the circumstances. Consider, for example, the requirement of actual malice:

Actual malice must be proven in order for a plaintiff to win a defamation case in certain circumstances. In cases involving a public figure who alleges defamation, that person must prove that the defendant’s actions showed actual malice. In Connecticut cases involving employer privilege, an employee can still win a defamation claim if the employee can show that the employer made a false statement while either knowing it was false or while having a conscious disregard for the truth of the statement. In Massachusetts defamation cases (and throughout the First Circuit Court of Appeals), truth is a defense to a libel claim unless the plaintiff can prove actual malice.

Different states also have their own understandings of what constitutes a statement being made or published to a third party. For example, under Connecticut law, employee personnel files can include statements or information that could constitute libel. 

Seek Advice from an Employment Lawyer in Massachusetts and Connecticut

Employees who have been harmed by defamation may be able to file a claim. An experienced employment defamation lawyer at our firm can speak with you today about your case. Contact Hayber, McKenna & Dinsmore, LLC online or call us at (413) 785-1400 to learn more about how we can assist you.