What are my rights ifI was terminated wrongfully and my character was defamed as a result?

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What are my rights ifI was terminated wrongfully and my character was defamed as a result?

I was a very successful medical sales rep and was let go on 01/22 for misconduct. What happened was that 8 months before I was let go one of my key accounts received the wrong item than what they ordered – when they opened the box there was an EKG machine instead. They repeatedly called customer service to have someone come and pick up the machine. But nobody ever came. As a representative of the company it is very common for me to pick up mis-shipments or returns for accounts if our delivery people fail to. I picked up the EKG and told both my manager and customer service department. So I put the EKG in my garage where it sat for about 8 months; again very common among reps. Right before the end of last year one of my accounts called me and said that their EKG broke and they needed help. I told them about the EKG I had in my garage and told them they could borrow it. So I let them use it; once gain very common among reps. They used the EKG but because I was on vacation at the time they called customer service wanting to buy the machine. Unfortunately our operations manager jumped to conclusions and made the accusation that I was up to no good and trying to sell the EKG for my gain. They claimed in the termination letter that I attempted to sell the EKG for my own personal profit. Since all this happened they denied my unemployment I appealed the unemployment and I lost the first hearing. But when I appealed it again they agreed that there was nothing that I did wrong and essentially was just let go but not for the reasons that the company listed.  Also, I feel that my character has been tainted sinceI didn’t do what they say I did. Finally, I have a non-compete and want to know if is still binding under the circumstances? Basically, do I have legal recourse for any of this?

Asked on September 2, 2010 under Employment Labor Law, Oregon

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

Defamation is the public (which includes even to one other third party) of a false statement of material fact that damages someone's reputation and/or makes others not want to do business with him or her. If you believe that the comments, letters, statements, etc. made by your employer about you contained false factual statements that damaged your reputation, you should consult with an attorney to evaluate how strong your case may be and what it might be worth.

While consulting with the attorney, have him or her evaluate your non-competition agreement. Depending on the exact circumstances and the language of the agreement, what your company did may have constituted breach (on their part) of the agreement, giving you grounds to terminate it, but there's no way to tell or answer in general or in the abstract. It depends on the agreement and circumstances. The lawyer can also review to make sure the agreement is not too broad, in terms of time or geographic scope, so as to be unenforceable anyway.

If you have ultimately (e.g. on appeal) received unemployment, you probably have  no claim regarding that.

Companies have enormous discretion about firing employees, so you probably don't have any claim for termination, unless (1) there was a violation of an employment agreement, or (2) you were fired for an illegal discriminatory reason (e.g. race, religion, age over 40, sex, disability).


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