If I was recently laid off due to my position being eliminated and received a bad reference, do I have a right to sue for defamation of character?

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If I was recently laid off due to my position being eliminated and received a bad reference, do I have a right to sue for defamation of character?

There were no hard feelings on either side. The company paid me a severence. To my surprise, one of my references (my manager before this one), called me and said that my manager had called him (unprovoked) and chewed him out for giving me a bad reference. He also said that he would need to speak with me before he endorsed me for another position. This was left on a voicemail of mine and I have yet to talk to my reference. I obviously have proof that this occurred non-provoked. I am very embarrassed and most likely lost him as a reference. What further information do I need to get regarding the conversation?

Asked on December 18, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Defamation is a false factual statement made about a person, which statement damages his or her reputation or makes others not want to work with him or her. Not all bad references are defamation--in fact most are not.

The following would be defamation: saying you were fired for absenteeism, or for stealing, or sexual harassment, or otherwise terminated for cause, when you were not. Those are false factual statements.

However, these would not be defamation, since they are either opinions or statements of intention, not factual statemtnts: saying you were a bad worker; saying you were lazy; saying you were not good at problem solving; saying they would not hire you again; saying  that you added little to your team or the company.

You need to know what the bad reference was to know whether it may have been defamation. If it was, you may have a legal claim and should speak with a personal injury attorney.


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