When it comes to defamation cases, determining what is defamation, libel, or slander is sometimes difficult. Defamation is the act of making a statement about someone that is spoken in an accusatory way and has the potential to ruin their reputation.
However, deciding whether something is an act of defamation or just an opinion is sometimes difficult to judge. The statement “I think Megan is rude” is an opinion that cannot be proven either way. However, stating something like “I think Megan stole a car” is an accusation that alleges the person committed a criminal act. If this statement is proved to be untrue, it is classed as defamation.
Defamatory statements can also sometimes lead to people losing employment. Here, we discuss some of the biggest employment defamation cases that have occurred and the outcomes of such.
Bradley Cohen v Ross Hansen
Real estate investor Bradley Cohen was awarded $35.3 million in damage after filing a defamation case against his ex-employee, who was found to have made websites that compared Cohen to Bernie Madoff, a fraudster serving a 150-year sentence. This libellous act inevitably caused damage to Cohen’s reputation. As a result, Cohen won the defamation case and claimed a significant amount of damage money, as well as an additional $3 million in punitive damages.
Bowden v KSMC Holdings Pty Ltd t/as Hubba Bubba Childcare on Haig & Chapman
When a former employee of a childcare centre, who had enrolled in the Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care at TAFE, resigned due to an incompatibility with his timetable, the director of the centre emailed some of the parents to explain why the employee left. However, his version of events stated he left due to “disciplinary reasons” and being “untruthful” about his studies.
The former employee was informed about this email and then withdrew from the TAFE course he was studying due to the distress caused by the defamatory content written in the email. He then sought medical and psychological help as a result of the distress. Then, the ex-employee filed a defamation case against the director of the centre. Because the email caused harm to both the ex-employee’s mental state, his ability to find another job position after this incident, and the group the email was sent to directly affected his chosen career, the employer was awarded $237,000 in damages.
What should I do if I am a victim of defamation?
Whether in the workplace or in your personal life, if you feel you are being defamed by someone, it is important to know what to do if this happens.
1. Understand whether the statement is harmful
In order to file a case against someone, whether this be defamation, libel, or slander, you need to be able to show your reputation has been damaged. Although someone spreading rumours about you may upset you, it might not impact your life and your ability to gain an income. If not, then no legal action can be taken.
So, before filing a defamation case, take some time to assess the situation first and whether it is impacting your employment circumstances.
2. Gather evidence
The most important thing when filing a defamation case of any sort against someone is having the evidence to back it up. If you don’t have that, it is nothing more than a ‘he said, she said’ situation. Whether it be screenshots of emails sent out about you in the office, social media posts, or audio recordings, evidence is vital to be successful in your case. The evidence must also show who wrote or spoke the defamatory statement.
3. Contact a lawyer
If you think you have the evidence and resources to file a defamation case, get in touch with a lawyer who deals with these cases. There are some law firms that specifically deal with defamation cases too. A number of law firms will have teams of experienced media lawyers that help both protect and defend those that have been affected by slanderous allegations.
4. For online cases, contact a reputation management expert
As for online cases of defamation, if the defamatory content is difficult to retrieve from the internet, you might need the help of an online reputation management expert. This could be crucial for those in the public eye who tend to have a lot of news written about them that buries the defamatory content.
For extremely serious circumstances where an employment tribunal is required and you are unable to get another job due to the defamatory news circulating the internet, reputation management experts can help control the online content that is published. By making take-down requests to websites that post the negative defamatory content about you, experts can monitor and limit the fake news that is damaging your reputation.
Defamation cases are never easy, with many requirements needing to be met in order to take legal action against fake news that is spread. If you feel you are a victim of defamation, libel, or slander, then it’s important to seek help from those that specialise in this area.