Defamation of Character

Question:

A past employer is spreading untrue statements about me. This has kept me from getting good jobs in WV and VA. She has been quoted as keeping me from getting employment. What can I do about this?

Signed,

Frustrated


Answer:

Dear Frustrated:

I’m sorry for the delay in responding to your question. It was in another mailbox and I just now located it!

I don’t know what kind of work you do, but I don’t see how your employer could have such influence she could spread stories over two states! What might be more likely is that when people call her for a reference she does not say very positive things–or might say negative things.

If you work in a business or industry where you are applying at places she works with regularly, I suppose she might taint their thoughts even before you apply. But, many people are like I am and would resent that anyway. It could backfire on her.

A big part of your response will be based on what she is saying and upon her role in the organization where you worked. If she says you did something illegal and it is clearly not true, that is certainly slanderous and you could possibly take civil action against her for that.

You would have to talk to an attorney and get a free consultation to find out if you have a case. You would have to have proof that she did say something false and harmful, and show what harm it has caused.

If, on the other hand, she is simply saying you were not a good worker, that would be more difficult to deal with, because that may simply be her opinion.

Consider asking for copies of your performance evaluations, if you were evaluated, and show that those were positive when you talk to a prospective employer. If they weren’t, then you are in a bad situation anyway, but hopefully that is not the case.

Or, give as a reference clients or customers who you worked with successfully. If this former employer is the owner of the business, this next idea would not help. But, if she is an employee at a management level, it may be that you could contact HR or the owner of the business and say what is happening, and ask that it stop so you do not have to seek legal assistance. (It may be that she is not representing her company with her remarks, but instead is on her own vendetta.)

You don’t say how you know this information, so I wonder if it is even true. If someone from your former work is saying it and quoting the former boss, it may just be talk. If a potential employer brings up questions about the things your former employer might mention, then it might be more likely to be true.

I can imagine this is frustrating. But, unless she is accusing you of a crime, I find it hard to believe every job opportunity will be closed because of this person.

Make sure you present yourself and any material you provide, in the most positive way possible, so that whatever she says is not so likely to be believed. Consider asking someone you trust if they can suggest ways to make your marketability even higher. If you find out who was hired instead of you, maybe you can determine what experiences, education and style that person has that you do not.

As I said, the only way to know for sure if you have a basis for legal action is to talk to an attorney. That might be something you will want to do, just to make sure you have covered everything.

Best wishes to you!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.