Tuesday, July 18, 2017

An employer may be vicariously liable for an allegedly slanderous statement made by its employee


An employer may be vicariously liable for an allegedly slanderous statement made by its employee
2017 NY Slip Op 05353, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

The Plaintiff in this action against a village and an employee of the village [Defendants] alleged that an employee of the village made defamatory remarks* concerning the Plaintiff in the course of her employment as an administrative assistant of the village.

Addressing appeals concerning the disposition of motions for summary judgment dismissing the Plaintiff's petition filed by the Defendants, the Appellate Division said:

1. It is well established that, although "[s]lander as a rule is not actionable unless the plaintiff suffers special damage," where, as here, a statement charges plaintiff with a serious crime, the statement constitutes "slander per se" and special damage is not required.

2. In situations involving "slander per se," the defendants may claim a qualified privilege contending that there was a good faith, bona fide communication upon a subject in which the individual has an interest, or a legal, moral or societal interest to speak, and the communication is made to a person with a corresponding interest.

3. In the event the defendants in such an action meet their initial burden of establishing that any of the alleged disparaging statements are protected by a qualified privilege inasmuch as they were made between members of the organization in connection with the plaintiff's application for employment, membership or a similar relationship, "the burden shifted to plaintiff to raise a triable issue of fact whether the statements were motivated solely by malice."

4. In the event the plaintiff raises an issue where a jury could reasonably conclude that malice was the one and only cause for the publication of the statements claimed by the plaintiff to constitute slander, the plaintiff has raised an issue of fact whether statements were motivated solely by malice and thus are not protected by a qualified privilege.

5. Citing Seymour v New York State Elec. & Gas Corp., 215 AD2d 971, the Appellate Division noted that an employer may be held vicariously liable for an allegedly slanderous statement made by an employee only if the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment at the time that the statement was made.

In this action the Appellate Division concluded that the village failed to establish its  entitlement to summary judgment as a matter of law on the theory that the administrative assistant was not acting within the scope of her employment when she allegedly made disparaging statements concerning Plaintiff to other officials or employees of the village.

* A false statement that tends to expose a person to public contempt, hatred, ridicule, aversion or disgrace constitutes defamation. An oral utterance that inaccurately accuses a person of a serious crime can be slander per se as can oral statements alleging an individual's being infected with some disease that would result in his or her being ostracized from society, or being unfit to perform of his or her duties as an officer or employee. Defamatory words that could prejudice the individual in his or her profession or trade or the chastity of the individual have been held to constitute slander per se.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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