Can I pursue a former supervisor’s subordinate who had an affair for which our employer held me accountable without my knowledge?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Can I pursue a former supervisor’s subordinate who had an affair for which our employer held me accountable without my knowledge?

At a former employer, I have discovered after still searching for executive-level work for 11 months, that my former employer held me complicit for a hidden affair between my supervisor and my direct subordinate. I did not know of this affair but both employees knew of an internal investigation against them and left the firm months before I was displaced. They were both after-employment references for me. I have also discovered that the supervisor has been non-responsive to recruiter calls for me. I queried both parties separately, who then called each other and compared notes in their subsequent responses. They denied the allegations, but it was obvious that they colluded on their answers. They did have the affair. Do I have any recourse against the 2 individuals for negatively impacting my employment, both in causing my displacement and not supporting me afterward to hide their affair? It appears they have not assisted in my job placement anywhere in an effort to continue to hide their wrongdoing. As long as I am

Asked on April 4, 2019 under Employment Labor Law, West Virginia


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

No, as unfair as it is, you do not have any legal recourse here unless defamation is being committed (see below). There is no legal obligation for for coworkers or supervisors to be employment references for you, or to respond to recruiters, or otherwise help you get new employment in way. They also could collude to cause your displacement or termination of employment since--unless you had a written employment contract which was violated--you were an "employee at will" and had no guaranty of or rights to a job, or any protection for your job. Quite simply, employers, supervisors, and coworkers have no duties to you whatsoever regarding helping you keep or get a job. (Again, unless there was a written contract involved which was violated by what they did: if there was, you could sue for "breach of contract" to enforce the terms of the contract and your rights under it.)
Defamation is illegal. Defamation is narrowly defined, however: it is the making of false factual statements about you which damage your reputation. If any of these people defamed you, you could sue them. But again, only a false factual statement is defamation. Being silent and not helping you is not defamation; true statements about you, even if harmful, are not defmation; opinions, no matter how unfair or hurtful, are not defamtion. So if they are simply not responding to queries, requests for refererences, etc. that is not defamation. It would not be defamation if they express an opinion, such as, "I would not work with him/her again and do not recommend that you hire them." Only if they lied about you--e.g. claiming you stole from the company, lied on time sheets, were excessively absent, etc. when you were not--would that potentially be defamation.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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