If a former employee is falsely accusing me of sexual harassment, can I sue?

I was approached by a gentleman outside of my work telling me that I need to stop asking out a former employee. I have no idea what he was talking about but it’s being said that I have been sexually harassing a former employee that I have very little contact with. The only contact has been in passing because we both work at the same mall. Is this grounds at all for slander or defamation of character?

Asked on November 30, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Kentucky


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Defamation is making a negative factual statement to a third party, which damages a person's reputation. You might possibly therefore have a cause of action against the former employee, for telling people that you have been sexually harassing him or her, though you would not have a cause of action against the gentlemen who approached you (since he spoke directly to you, not to a third party). However, since opinions are not defamation, and what consitutes "sexual harassment" is, to some degree, an opinion, the statements made may not be actionable. For example: former employee says you touched him or her in an inappropriate way; that is a fact, and if you can prove it is untrue, that might be defamation. But if the former employee says he or she "feels as if you are sexually harassing" him or her when you say "hi," that is an opinion and not actionable. Between that, the difficulty of proving anything if it just comes down to one person's word against another's, and the issue of what damages or compensation you could seek, it may not be worthwhile pursuing legal action unless you suffer some negative consequence (e.g. lose a job) because of this.

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