Increasingly, plaintiffs bringing wrongful termination suits against former employers are also tacking on claims of defamation. This strategy has proved beneficial for plaintiff employees. In fact, one disgruntled employee, Robert Sallustio, lost his claims of wrongful termination and retaliation, but won a defamation judgment against his former employer. He was awarded nearly $5.7 million last year in the Sacramento, California trial.
In the lawsuit, former claims adjuster Sallustio sued Kemper Independence Insurance Co. for wrongful termination and defamation. Sallustio alleged that he was fired for trying to stop Kemper management from harassing his ex-wife, who was also a Kemper employee. According to Sallustio, when he complained about how his ex-wife was being treated, a Kemper executive made up an excuse to fire him. The executive put on record that Sallustio was not coming to work in the mornings, even though there were records showing otherwise. Although the court ultimately dismissed Sallustio’s retaliation and wrongful-termination claims, the remaining defamation claim was enough to secure a $5,653,604.38 verdict.
More recently, in a case we previously discussed on our blog, an employee bringing a defamation suit against her former employer also included a claim for defamation. Myrna Arias is suing Intermex Wire Transfer for, amongst other things, falsely telling her previous employer that Arias was a disloyal employee. She argues that this caused damages to her earning potential and reputation.
When employees sue former companies for wrongful termination and add defamation claims to their lawsuits, the defamation claim usually alleges that the employer gave false reasons for firing the employee. To prove defamation in California, the plaintiff has to show false, unprivileged statements were made to someone other than the plaintiff, that these people reasonably understood that the statement were about the plaintiff, the statements had a natural tendency to injure the plaintiff, and the defendant failed to use reasonable care to determine the truth or falsity of the statements.
Employees should try and record all the circumstances surrounding their wrongful termination so that they can prove whether defamation was also involved.
Sacramento, CA 95821