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December 13, 2016

Evaluating claims seeking to recover damages for alleged defamation and maintaining a hostile work environment


Evaluating claims seeking to recover damages for alleged defamation and maintaining a hostile work environment

In this action to recover damages for defamation and a hostile work environment in violation of Executive Law §296, the plaintiff, Pall, appealed an order of the Supreme Court granting the Roosevelt Union Free School District’s motion to dismiss her complaint.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court’s ruling, explaining:

1. "To state a cause of action to recover damages for defamation, a plaintiff must allege that the defendant published a false statement, without privilege or authorization, to a third party, constituting fault as judged by, at a minimum, a negligence standard, and it must either cause special harm or constitute defamation per se."

2. "Since falsity is a necessary element of a defamation cause of action and only facts' are capable of being proven false, it follows that only statements alleging facts can properly be the subject of a defamation action.'" and

3. "The dispositive inquiry . . . is whether a reasonable [reader] could have concluded that [the statement was] conveying facts about the [Pall]."

The Appellate Division ruled that “accepting the allegations in the complaint as true, affording [Pall] the benefit of every favorable inference, and considering the evidentiary material submitted by the parties,” Pall did not have a cause of action to recover damages for defamation as the context of the alleged statement was such that a reasonable reader would have concluded that he or she was reading an opinion, and not a fact, about Pall.

Addressing Pall’s claims of the existence of “a hostile work environment in violation of Executive Law §296,” the court held that her allegations “fell short of alleging that the workplace was " permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult . . . that [was] sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of . . . employment and create an abusive working environment.'"

Pall v Roosevelt Union Free Sch. Dist., 2016 NY Slip Op 07937, Appellate Division, Second Department


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