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Jury to hear job defamation claim

An executive who said she was defamed during a performance evaluation gets another shot at a jury, in today’s ruling from the Supreme Court of Virginia in Hyland v. Raytheon Technical Services.

In March 2007, the high court reversed Cynthia Hyland’s $1.85 million award, saying two of the five allegedly defamatory statements in the executive’s job evaluation involved questions of fact.

Those two statements – one that quantified the alleged deficient performance of the executive’s business unit and a second statement that cited gaps in “her business unit financial performance” – could go to the jury because the statements could be proved true or false.

On remand, a Fairfax Circuit Court granted summary judgment to the employer. But in today’s unanimous opinion, Justice Barbara Milano Keenan said the trial court “improperly limited it analysis to the separate factual portions of the allegedly defamatory statements and excluded the necessary consideration of each statement as a whole …”

Contrary to the employer’s assertion, Hyland “did not admit the truth of the two allegedly defamatory statements,” Keenan wrote, as Hyland did not concede she was responsible for loss of two contract bids, leading to gaps in the company’s plans, or that she had failed to meet her team’s financial targets by the stated percentages.

By Deborah Elkins

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