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January 18, 2011

At-will employee’s claims of wrongful termination and defamation rejected by court

At-will employee’s claims of wrongful termination and defamation rejected by court
DiLacio v New York City Dist. Council of United Bhd. of Carpenters & Joiners of Am., 2011 NY Slip Op 00175, Appellate Division, Second Department

George DiLacio, Jr., sued the United Brotherhood alleging “wrongful termination of employment and defamation” when it included the phrase “severe dereliction of duty” in the letter it sent to him terminating his employment.

The Appellate Division rejected DiLacio’s allegations, noting that because he was “an employee at will,” his argument that the Brotherhood violated its duty to terminate his employment "only in good faith and with fair dealing" failed to state a valid cause of action under New York law.

Under New York law, said the court, "absent a constitutionally impermissible purpose, a statutory proscription, or an express limitation in the individual contract of employment, an employer's right at any time to terminate an employment at will remains unimpaired."

The Appellate Division also rejected DiLacio’s claim of defamation, explaining that although the letter advising him of his termination contained the phrase "severe dereliction of duty," the letter had not “been published” to anyone other than DiLacio himself.

NYPPL Comments: In Donato v Plainview-Old Bethpage School District, 96 F.3d 623, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that a name-clearing hearing is available to the individual when he or she is terminated along with a contemporaneous public announcement of stigmatizing factors, including illegality, dishonesty, immorality, or a serious denigration of the employee’s competence.

As the court found that that there was no “contemporaneous public announcement” of the Brotherhood's statement, presumably DiLacio did not have a right to demand a “name-clearing hearing.” [See, also, Sassaman v Brant, 70 AD3d 1026, a lawsuit triggered by an employee's complaint to a superior concerning a co-worker’s conduct, summarized in NYPPL at ].

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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