Can I legally sue for defamation of character if I was fired for a false allegation that harms my reputation?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Can I legally sue for defamation of character if I was fired for a false allegation that harms my reputation?

I was falsely accused of putting my arm around a child’s neck during a haircut and terminated. It was stated that there were several complaints made against me by customers one being a mother calling about her child feeling threatened when I put my arm around his neck. I was never made aware of any complaints termination was the first I heard but there was no formal or informal documentation of incidents just the accusation. About 5 days before termination, I was sent home early and removed from the schedule the following 2 days then closed for Christmas, I was told because it was slow as the days because I had asked there were no complaints or issues in my performance. So termination was a shock and this is now in my file.

Asked on January 4, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

You cannot sue your employer, unless they fired you in violation of a written employment agreement which guaranteed you some process or procedure before termination. In the absence of a written contract protecting your employment or limiting the ability to terminate you, you were an "employee at will" and could be terminated at any time, for any reason whatsoever, including unproven or even false allegations. There is also no right to receive prior warnings or notice, so it doesn't matter if they did not bring it up before.
You may be able to sue the parent who made the false report for one or both of defamation (making an untrue factual statement which damaged your reputation) or tortious interference with economic advantage (doing a wrongful thing--like lying about you [i.e. defamation] which caused you to lose your job). To win, you'd essentially have to show that the allegation was false (technically, they raise the truth as a defence, and successfully defend themselves if they prove it true, but in a case like this, the "burden of proof" is almost equally balanced between the two parties, so you may as well think of it as winning if you show the alletagation was false).

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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