How Do You Prove Slander?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about spreading lies:

A parent in the school where I teach wrote a letter to a group of teachers which contains lies about me. How can I prove that this is slander?

Signed, Determined

Dear Determined:

You need to see an attorney about this matter. If you want to make a claim of slander or charge someone criminally with defamation, you will want an attorney anyway. (In some jurisdictions these claims are civil only and in others they can be criminal, so it varies) You can usually get a free consultation during which a paralegal or the attorney can tell you the kind of evidence you need to collect and if the lying statements rise to the level of slander. (“He’s cruel and insulting” is probably just an unfounded opinion or complaint. “He has done inappropriate things with children” would likely be defamatory.)

You may also want to check out Internet law sites to give you an idea of what is considered slander, libel and defamation. You could also check the state statutes for your state to see what is applicable. Another resource would be to contact a teacher’s union or your teacher association and ask for advice or at least informal ideas. Best wishes in this matter.

Second Opinion: My Associate Workplace Doctor Tina Rowe’s advice is solid, and here are my supporting and additional suggestions: Our site doesn’t give legal advice. Most likely this is not a legal matter. To prove slander is difficult and doesn’t soon address the hurt you feel. To “prove slander” you need to show evidence is lacking of what was said was your misconduct and also you must provide evidence that the “lies” have cost your “good standing”, such as being demoted or fired. Take the letter that you say contained lies to an attorney if you wish to sue the parent. Usually you can find an attorney with a free consultation. However, it seems to me, your question is more a matter of pride and parent-teacher relations, so here are some thoughts. Consult with you principal. Request an investigation.

It is a principal’s responsibility to address serious charges. Ask the principle, if and how you should respond to the individual’s letter, to the parent in person and/or to the teachers who received the letter. Possibly the principal will schedule individual and face-to-face meetings between the parent and you. Make copies of previous evaluations, positive notes from other parents, and student performance in tests. Continue to be as positive a teacher as possible.

It is natural that such a charge is stressful, but don’t obsess about this. Avoid gossip and badmouthing the parent. Those whose work is in the public eye, such as police, health, sales and many other occupations sometimes must cope with “lies” and misunderstandings. Take this in stride. How to handle such an unhappy event is something that probably was not part of your training.

Teaching is no simple matter and probably any advice I might give will touch on things you know well; therefore, please don’t take these suggestions to imply you are deficient as a teacher: If you have not done so before, seek advice from your co-workers about how you might engage parents and one or more of them as extended members of your instruction. Might you find others to be members of a team committed to your classroom? Invite parent visitation, both scheduled and unscheduled. Continue parent-teacher conferences.

Reflect on how you might “complaint-proof” your teaching in the future by close attention to and communication of instructional objectives, plans, classroom materials and communication with students and parents. Guard against touching acts that school policy specifies can be interpreted as sexual imposition. Adhere to rules regarding discipline. Communicate with clarity, enthusiasm, and warmth both with your students, parents, coworkers and superiors. Have a life outside the classroom. Exercise and yoga helps make you fit for the stressful work of teaching. Eat right. Sing. Dance. Treasure time with your family. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Bill Gorden

Tina Lewis Rowe