Washington D.C. and Maryland Area Employee Defamation Lawyer
Also Serving the following areas: Frederick, Howard and Anne Arundel Counties, Silver Spring, Glen Burnie, and Columbia
Employers’ defamatory statements about their current or former employees can have devastating consequences for these employees’ marketability and employment prospects. With offices in Annapolis, attorney Joyce E. Smithey is a recognized authority on Maryland employment law who represents employers and employees in defamation claims statewide.
While defamation is a legal concept that protects individuals and companies against the economic consequences of false statements across the board (subject to various rules and exceptions), in the employment context, defamation claims frequently arise when employees assert that their employers have wrongfully interfered with their employment prospects. When a current or former employer’s false statements prevent an employee from landing a job, the financial consequences can be substantial, and harmed employees will in many cases have grounds to seek financial compensation for their losses.
With over 17 years’ experience representing Maryland employers and employees statewide, attorney Joyce E. Smithey is widely recognized as an authority in the area of employment law. If you believe that you may have a defamation claim against your employer, Ms. Smithey can assist you in enforcing your legal rights. If you are facing a defamation claim from one of your current or former employees, Ms. Smithey can help you protect your company’s assets in court. Defamation cases can be extremely complicated, and Ms. Smithey is intimately familiar with the unique aspects of Maryland defamation law that affect both the ability to pursue and the ability to defend against employment-related defamation claims.
What is Defamation?
Under Maryland law, there are four primary elements involved in proving a claim for employment-related defamation. Generally speaking, the employee must be able to demonstrate that:
- An employer (current or former) made a statement to a third party;
- The statement was false;
- The employer made the false statement with recklessness or malice; and,
- The employee was harmed by the false statement.
Let’s consider an example: A manager who wants to retain an employee falsely tells a prospective employer that the employee consistently underperforms and has been disciplined for making inappropriate sexual remarks to a coworker. Based solely on this negative input, the prospective employer chooses not to hire the employee. Had the employee been hired, his or her salary would have been significantly higher than it is in the current position.
This is a fairly straight-forward example that covers all four elements of a successful claim for defamation: The employer maliciously made a false statement to a third party that resulted in financial harm to the employee. The only question is exactly how much the employee stands to lose as a result of not getting the job.
What is Defamation Per Se?
While employees will often need to prove harm in order to file a successful claim for defamation, this is not always the case. This is because of a special rule in Maryland known as defamation per se.
Under Maryland law, certain types of statements are considered to be so inherently harmful that they constitute defamation “per se” (as a matter of law). This means that the employee does not need to prove harm in order to win his or her case – harm is presumed based upon the severity of the false allegation. Examples of false statements that can constitute defamation per se include:
- False claims of criminal behavior
- False claims of fraudulent conduct
- False claims of moral turpitude
As with non-per se defamation claims, defamation per se can either be based upon false statements made orally (slander) or in writing (libel).
What is the Qualified Privilege?
Further adding to the complexity of Maryland’s defamation law for employers and employees, employers enjoy what is known as a “qualified privilege.” This qualified privilege protects employers in certain circumstances where non-employers can be held liable for defamation.
In most cases, it is enough for someone who has been harmed by a defamatory statement to prove that the statement was made negligently. That is, the person who has been defamed does not need to prove that there was any bad intent behind the statement in order to establish a cause of action. It is enough that the statement was made, essentially, by mistake.
However, companies in Maryland enjoy a qualified privilege when providing information to potential employers about their current and former employees. In other words, in the employment context, negligence is not enough. As noted above, to establish a claim for defamation, an employee must be able to establish that his or her employer acted either recklessly or with malice when providing the false information to a prospective employer.
Discuss Your Defamation Claim with Maryland Employment Lawyer Joyce E. Smithey
For more information about pursuing or defending an employment-related defamation claim in Maryland, contact attorney Joyce E. Smithey. Ms. Smithey is a Partner at the law firm of Rifkin Weiner Livingston LLC and leader of the firm’s labor and employment practice group. To arrange a confidential initial consultation, call (410) 269-5066 or get in touch online today.