Employment Defamation Case Kicked Out - But No Mention of the Privilege Statute
by Michael Fox
Austin v. Inet Technologies (Tex. App. - Dallas 10/23/03) has all the aspects of defamation cases that can arise in the workplace. The plaintiff was discharged following a dispute with her supervisor which he allegedly misreported to HR and on up the chain. (He said that she yelled at him in front of fellow employees and clients; she disagreed that she "yelled".) She claimed the internal comments were defamatory, that she was defamed during a reference check, and that she was forced to pass on the defamatory comment, relying on the theory of compelled self publication.
Although the Court upheld summary judgment, finding that the employer had established the comments were privileged, there was no malice, that the reference was substantively true, and that she could not prove the first element of self-publication since she knew it was defamatory. Interestingly, what was not mentioned in all of the various successful defenses was the 1999 legislation designed to protect employers when giving references, now codified at Section 103 of the Texas Labor Code.