Sue My Boss: What Is Defamation?

The United States Constitution allows certain rights to all Americans, specifically the right of free speech. However, freedom of speech shouldn’t damage the lives of others by spreading lies that ruin a business or split a family. Defamation splits into a few sub-categories, but certain qualities denote whether or not a statement truly is defamation.

What is the Definition of Defamation?

Defamation or defamation of character is an intentionally untrue statement, whether written or spoken, that damages the reputation of a person or a business.  This reputation harm often looks like the loss of respect or confidence. Sometimes, these lies instigates hostile or disparaging opinions against the victim of defamation.

What are the Types of Defamation?

Defamation is usually recognized as either libel or slander. Libel is when a disparaging statement is written, and slander occurs when the untrue comment is spoken.

What Criteria must a Defamation Lawsuit Meet?

Four basic criteria govern whether or not a defamation lawsuit has a chance of being successful. Whether slander or libel, the defamation must be false, heard by a third party, cause quantifiable harm, and not protected by the first amendment. If a statement matches these four criteria, then a defamation lawsuit might be the best course of action for recovering the damages to a reputation.

Defamation is false information.

To be considered defamation, a statement must be an untrue comment bent on causing harm. Someone who reviews a coffee shop and writes that the coffee was the “worst coffee I’ve ever had” is unlikely to face a lawsuit because the statement is subjective to that one client. Meanwhile, a blogger who writes a post revealing unfair policies at a favorite retail store can’t be sued if the information is accurate and factual.

Defamation  must be heard by a third party.

Proving that a statement caused injury means that other people must have seen, heard, or read the defamatory remark, which then changed their perspective on the person or company. Since writing often lasts longer, courts usually consider libel to be much more serious. However, television broadcasts can cause severe damage to a reputation of a company or person.

Defamation causes quantifiable harm.

In a lawsuit for defamation, to receive damages for the defamation, the harm from the untrue statement must be able to be measured. The false statement must correlate with a financial loss or the end of a relationship. For example, a company making 10,000 sales a week that becomes the focus of a viral hashtag bashing tirade, instigated by an untrue statement by an angry competing company, notices an immediate drop to only 2,000 sales for the following four weeks.

Defamation that is not protected by the First Amendment.

Freedom of speech is protected by the U.S. Constitution, but certain types of speech is also protected from defamation laws, such as witness testimony or lawmaker statements within legislative chambers. When slanderous statements are made outside of these areas, they can be the target of a lawsuit.

Where Are Defamatory Statements Most Commonly Found?

An easy place to find offensive and sometimes very untrue statements is online, but of course, defamatory statements can be found in other areas as well. Newspapers are very careful to watch for libelous content. However, the quickness of internet publishing often doesn’t allow for editing out the defamation until it’s too late.

  • local newspapers’ letters to the editor
  • public comments on media websites
  • internet chatrooms
  • social media posts
  • blog posts
  • comments on blog posts

What Are Some Examples of Defamation?

Defamation ruins the reputation of a company or a person. Many people think that any mean statement made by a coworker, boss, or friend can be constituted as slander. For example, if a coworker lies to the boss about you took a break when you didn’t, that is not defamation. It was mean, but it’s not punishable by law. A mean, true statement can’t be considered slander either. Only certain scenarios fit the criteria of defamation of character.

Sabotaged by an Angry Client

A freelance event planner suffered severe damages when a past client who was a boss of a company started a media campaign that spread untrue comments about the planner’s work ethic and connections. Due to the company’s reputation, the event planner lost scheduled clients. She closed her freelance business and had to seek employment elsewhere.

Slander on a television interview

A celebrity who was being interviewed by a well known television host slipped in an untrue comment about the business of another popular star. That business immediately experienced a drop in sales and extra media investigation. This televised slander would be considered defamation.

Employer slanders a previous employee

Amelia applied for a management position at a competing company. During the interview, the manager requested work references, and Amelia supplied her immediate supervisor’s phone number as well as a few others. The next day, Amelia and a coworker overheard Amelia’s supervisor make untrue statements about Amelia to the competing company. Amelia was not hired.

If you have experienced defamation as well as employment discrimination or sexual harassment, contact a defamation of character lawyer now to hear your legal options.

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