Can my boss defame my character to my co-workers?

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Can my boss defame my character to my co-workers?

I recently left a company where my immediate boss (VP of the company) consistently undermined me to my staff, talked about me, and told untruths in order to make herself look correct. Of course I decided not to deal with this unprofessional behavior and instead left the company (2days ago) after giving a 4 week notice. In the past few days I have received several phone calls from my previous staff telling me that the VP is still negatively talking about me and blaming me for her mistakes. Can I sue her for discrimination and defamation of character? Her actions can harm my career.

Asked on January 4, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, North Carolina

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

While most unprofessional this conduct is not necessarily actionable.  A former employer can make whatever comments it chooses to co-workers about a former employee as long as they do not constitute "slander". This means that you can only sue for remarks that are false and grossly untrue.  For example, statements of fact aren't legally actionable.  Therefore if your former boss siad that they would never re-hire you that's not defamatory because they can prove that it's true.  Additionally, statements of opinion aren't a basis for a lawsuit. So if your former boss said that, "I think X is the worst worker that I've ever supervised", while that may be hurtful and unfair, it does not constitute the basis for claim.   

Bottom line, in order to sue for defamation (slander), the information must be a false statement of fact.  And it's often very hard for a former employee to prove what is being said about them by a past employer; former co-workers will most likely refuse to get officially involved.  Without more details it's hard to say.  If you believe that your previous employer has defamed you, you should consult with an employment law attorney in your area.


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