Do I have grounds to sue my former employer if I was fired for self defense?

UPDATED: Jan 7, 2012

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Do I have grounds to sue my former employer if I was fired for self defense?

I was assaulted by 3 customers and I defended myself. I was in turn fired. I am in an at-will state. My unemployment benefits were denied. I did inform management that I was being harassed, but she did nothing. Property security and police were available but not called. I later found out the manager gave a slanted version of events (to cover the fact that she didn’t act accordingly) to upper management, the unemployment department, and my hourly co-workers. Do I have a case against my former employer for lost wages and defamation? If so, what type of lawyer should I find?

Asked on January 7, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, Nevada


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

There are two very different issues here:

1) If you did not have an employment contract (including a union agreement) which protected your job in some way, you could be fired at any time, for any reason, even an unfair one or one based on incorrect facts. Therefore, even if it was unfair to fire you for defending yourself against attack, they could do this. (If you do have a contract, however, you could enforce whatever job protections or rights it contains.)

2) If the manager specifically, or the company more generally, made false factual statements to third parties (e.g. to coworkers or the unemployment office) about you which damage your reputation, cause others to not want to work with you, and/or cause you a monetary loss, you may be able to sue the manager and/or company for defamation. Note that opinions are not defamation--so saying "I think John Doe handled it wrong and didn't need to fight" would not be defamation, since that is an opinion, not a fact; and true facts are not defamation either, even if very unflattering to you (so saying "John Doe is much bigger and stronger than the men he fought" is not defamation, if true). Only false negative facts could be defamation--for example, if you did not throw the first punch, but it's claimed that you did, that could be defamation, since it is a factual assertion which is untrue and which could damage your reputation.

If you believe you have been defamed, you should consult with a personal injury attorney to explore whether you have a case and what it might be worth.

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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