Do I have a defmation case if a previous supervisor gave a bad reference about me and an agency that offered me a tenative job offer rescinded it because of the negative feedback?

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Do I have a defmation case if a previous supervisor gave a bad reference about me and an agency that offered me a tenative job offer rescinded it because of the negative feedback?

I received a tentative job offer from a different department in the federal government. Yesterday, I received a phone call from them and they were going to rescind their offer based on negative feedback provided from my previous supervisor. I asked for it in writing and they stated they would provide it in an email. I’ve spoken to my union rep. and he said to put it into and EEO case as retaliation which has been done and to seek legal counsel but find one that offers a free consultation first. We think there is a strong defamation case.

Asked on October 14, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Utah

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

It depends on what was said. Opinions, no matter how negative, are not defamation. And true facts, even if harmful are not defamation. So the following would NOT be defamation:
"John Doe was my worst employee"--that's an opinion.
"John Doe did not seem to have good problem-solving skills," or "John Doe was lazy--always did the minimum he had to do," or "John does was not a team player"--all opinions.
"I would not hire John Doe again, or recommend hiring him"--opinion.
Anything like the above is not something you can sue over. Or, say that you (for example), you were disciplined for excessive absence or lateness: if your former employer disclosed that, it's not defamation, because it's true.
Only a negative false factual assertion--something provably  untrue, and not based on opinion or subjective judgment--is defamation. So say that you were never written up for poor performance or placed on an employee improvement plan or probation, but the former employer falsely claimed that you were: that, because it's a false factual assertion, could be defamation.


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