Previous employer sending libelous email to new employer?
(San Diego, CA)
After nearly 16 years working at the same company, it was time to leave. I had been bullied, threatened, and had received bounced paychecks. Also, due to carelessness on the part of the employer, I fell at work and was severely injured. The company filed for Workers' Compensation.
During my tenure at the company, they had switched me from employee to independent consultant to avoid taxes. My job never adhered to the definitions of independent consultant, and they still filed for Workers' Compensation as though I was an employee. At the time, I did not understand the significance of that filing.
While on worker's comp, I continued to try and work from home to help the company. On more than one occasion this year, one of the two partners of the LLC had told me to search for another job because either he was closing the business at year's end, or, if finances did not improve, he might declare bankruptcy.
So I looked for other work. I am in my 60s. Another similar business in town wanted me to work for them. I was thrilled. I went back to the office and removed my belongings over the weekend to avoid any fighting. One partner was extremely volatile and had become physical/threatening on several occasions.
My intent was to return the following Monday with my letter of resignation and with any personal files or data that needed to go back to the company. I never got the chance.
They became very vindictive and reported to the police that I had stolen their property. They even tried to report a laptop as stolen but I had my personal receipts. In the end, I had to conduct two interviews with a detective.
On the following Tuesday, as I discussed a project over the phone with my new employer, they let me know they had received a highly libelous email from the old employer accusing me of theft. All of this is taking a toll on me. What do I do now? Can I take any action against my previous employer? Thank you.
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ANSWER for "Previous employer sending libelous email to new employer?":
Gail (San Diego, CA):
From the facts you present, your former employer committed an act of Libel (distinguished from slander). Libel and slander are both forms of defamation. Persons, and the companies they work for, who commit acts of defamation, can be held liable for damages sustained by the victims of their defamation.
Moreover, because your former employer accused you in writing (whether by letter, email, or both) of having committed a crime of moral turpitude, you won't have to prove how his act of libel caused you to suffer, whether financially, psychologically, or both.
Accusing someone of a crime of moral turpitude is considered defamation "per se." Theft is a crime of moral turpitude.
Because defamation cases can be challenging to prove for a non-lawyer, you would be best served by seeking the counsel of an attorney with experience in defamation cases. In your case, the person who actually committed to writing the libelous statement against you and the company he works for may both be liable.
There is a caveat. When it comes to defamation cases, truth is an absolute defense. Before proceeding with your defamation case, you must be entirely sure you didn't take even one pencil belonging to your former employer. If so, your employer likely has a valid defense to your claim of libel.
The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.
Best of luck,
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