Can I sue my former cleaning lady for defamation for badmouthing me to others?

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Can I sue my former cleaning lady for defamation for badmouthing me to others?

I fired my cleaning lady for poor performance. A few months later, my hairdresser advised me that this person entered her place of business (cleaning lady’s sister works there too) and announced to my hairdresser that she no longer works for me (by name) and that I am a “pig,” my house was disgusting, and that I am a mean and nasty person. This was during work hours with customers present. I live in a very small town and I have a psychotherapy practice down the street. Can’t prove actual damages, but am interested in small claims court as an option. Is this a possibility?

Asked on April 14, 2011 under Personal Injury, New York

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

You yourself have identified one of the hurdles--you can't prove actual damages. While there are courts that can provide other forms of relief, such as injunctive relief (e.g., an order to stop saying what she's saying), small claims court can't do that; all it can do is award monetary damages. So if you can't prove damages, then small claims court is inappropriate.

As for filing an action in another court: based on what you write, this may not be actionable defamation. Defamation is the public making of false *factual* statements. However, opinions are not defamation, and statements that someoine is "a pig," that their house is "disgusting," or that someone is "mean and nasty" are all opinions. The law lets people express opinions, even negative ones.


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