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10. What is “defamation”?

Defamation is the publication of an untrue statement about another that subjects that individual’s character or reputation to contempt or ridicule. “Publication” simply means that the untruthful statement was told or made known to at least one other person.

•    Note: Individuals and businesses can sue for defamation. In business, false accusations of dishonesty or inability to pay one’s debts frequently lead to defamation suits. Approximately one-third (1/3) of all defamation claims are brought by employees against present and former employers.

Types of Defamation

There are three general types of defamation:

•    Slander – Slander is spoken or oral defamation.

•    Libel – Libel is recorded defamation (i.e., written) or defamation over the television or radio.

•    Disparagement – Disparagement is defamation of another person’s trade or business prowess, product, or service.

•    Discussion: Why do you think the government recognizes a legal cause of action for defamation? Should a business’s reputation be treated differently than an individual’s reputation? Why or why not? Should verbal defamation be treated differently than recorded defamation? Why or why not? Should defamatory statements be treated differently depending upon how they are communicated (written, spoken, text, song, video, etc.)? Why or why not? Why do you think actions for defamation are common in the employment context? Should employment related defamation be afforded greater or lesser protection that personal character defamation? Why or why not?

•    Practice Question: Marvin gets into an argument with his supervisor and quits his job. He lists his employer on his résumé. When a potential employer calls his former employer to verify his employment, his former supervisor says all sorts of harsh and arguably untrue  things about Marvin. Marvin does not get the job. Does Marvin have a legal action against his former employer?

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