What can I do about a former employee harrassing/defaming us on-line?

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What can I do about a former employee harrassing/defaming us on-line?

I am a director at a childcare center. Yesterday, an employee was fired for gossiping with some of the parents about the center. She has been written up on a few occasions for similar behavior and it is all documented. Knowing her personality, I looked at our on-line reviews this morning and sure enough, there are some new negative reviews that I would only be able to describe as defamation. She doesn’t use her name and the names she uses are not names of anyone at our center. If we get the reviews taken down, she will probably just write more. Can we legally do anything?

Asked on October 2, 2010 under Employment Labor Law, Michigan

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

If you can prove that this person wrote the reviews, and IF they meet the requirements for defamation, you can sue her for defamation, for monetary damages and/or a court order barring her from futher defamation. Defamation is the public (even to one other person, so online reviews would count) making a false statement of fact that puts someone in a negative light and damages  their reputation. It is necessary for the statement to be defamation that it be a false statement of fact; opinions are not defamation. So saying "Jane Doe Childcare employees pedophiles" or "Jane Doe Childcare does not maintain good hygene" could be defamation, since those are factual assertions. Saying "Jane Doe Childcare is the worst daycare center I've ever seen" is not defamation, since that is an opinion.

If you do not "know" that the person wrote these reviews but suspect them, it may be possible to institute a legal action and use some of the mechanisms of lawsuits, such as "discovery," to prove its her. This can be difficult with online postings, however. You should speak with an attorney with experience in Internet defamation to discuss your options.


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