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Defamation claim for ‘client complaint’

To the catalogue of actionable statements in the work place, employment lawyers can add a transit company executive’s statement to a plaintiff’s supervisor, alleging receipt of a client complaint against the plaintiff.

Pro se plaintiff Emmett Jafari worked for Greater Richmond Transit Company for two years beginning in February 2006, according to Jafari v. Old Dominion Transport Mgmt. Co. Jafari alleged that after he returned from “illness due” to “harassment practices,” the company terminated him. He sued for ERISA violations and defamation.

Jafari alleged that in October 2007, a transit company executive told Jafari’s supervisor the executive had received a complaint that Jafari had apparently told a client, “if you have something to say, then say it to my face.” Jafari said he never made the statement and the executive refused to produce a copy of the client complaint when Jafari’s supervisor requested it.

The statement from the executive to the supervisor that a client had submitted a complaint stating plaintiff had “told a client, if you have something to say, then say it to my face,” represents a statement of fact that, if false, could constitute defamation, said Richmond U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer in his Nov. 28 opinion denying a motion to dismiss the defamation claim.

And although the executive and the supervisor “shared a duty to monitor or manage Plaintiff’s work performance” that supported a qualified privilege against a defamation claim, Jafari had pleaded common-law malice that could overcome a qualified privilege, the judge said.

With only a state-law claim surviving the motion to dismiss, Spencer remanded the case to Richmond Circuit Court.

By Deborah Elkins

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