March 9, 2009
Defamation Case Over Email is Troubling
There is an opinion involving defamation via an email message released last month by the First Circuit Court of Appeals that is raising some eyebrows. The concepts of truth as an absolute defense took a hit when the Court decided that a 1902 Massachusetts law allowed a suit to go forward because the plaintiff might be able to show actual malice even though the statements were truthful.
The facts are straightforward. Staples fired one of it's employees for allegedly padding an expense account. Staples also sent an email to other employees naming the individual and the reasons for separation. This, Staples said, was meant as an example of conduct that would not be allowed. The individual sued because he felt humiliated by the email. Even though the content of the email was true, a jury could find malice in the dissemination of the statement.
The Internet reaches everywhere, including Massachusetts. Any potential plaintiff coming from that state could conceivably overcome the harshness of truth if the defendant was ill motivated, whatever that means. And that's the problem. There's currently petitions for an en banc rehearing.
The case is Noonan v. Staples, docket 07-2159 (2/13/09) and it is available on the First Circuit's opinion page. The site requires some navigation to get there from the main page.
Commentary is in the Boston Globe. [MG]
March 9, 2009 | Permalink
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