Plaintiff in this action alleged that his former employer defamed him in the warning letter by issuing the letter of warning and directing Plaintiff to take anti-harassment training.
In the words of the Appellate Division, Plaintiff contends that the letter, "essentially finding" that Plaintiff had violated the employer's policy, is defamatory." However, said the court, to the extent the claim is based on the letter in general, it fails to state a cause of action for defamation.
The court opined that Plaintiff paraphrased the letter in his complaint and "misstates its contents, as the letter expressly found that [Plaintiff] had not violated employer's policies."
The Appellate Division also noted that Plaintiff failed to adequately plead publication of the alleged defamatory letter. He states only that the letter, though addressed to him, was "published to the rest of the Administration." This vague and undefined phrase does not meet the particularity requirements for person and time.
Plaintiff's reliance on that part of the letter which states that the employer found Plaintiff's conduct was "unprofessional and inappropriate" and evinced a "lack of appropriate judgment," is adequately particularized, at least as to its content, being a direct and accurate quote from the letter.
In any event, the Appellate Division, citing Foster v Churchill, 87 NY2d 744, concluded that a qualified privilege attaches to statements made for a supervisory purpose in an employment context. As the letter was written by the employer in the context of an investigation into workplace conduct, the court opined that the employer was protected under the defense of qualified privilege.
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