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I was defamed by a senior vice president of the company I work for. I notified HR, but my boss made me drop the complaint.

Seattle, WA |

I senior vice president of the company I work for sent an email to my boss and two other vice presidents alleging that I mistreat my employees (I'm a senior manager). He said he couldn't provide any specific examples - because there aren't any - but that he's heard it through the "rumor mill". He had no reason to include the other two VPs because the matter does not concern them or their organizations. I learned about this email because my boss forwarded it to me. I forwarded the email to HR and asked them to have the SVP and retract his accusation. Right after I talked to HR, my boss called me and pressured me to drop my complaint. He said following through with it would cause me "more damage". Before we hung up, he made me promise that I would email HR immediately to drop the complaint.

Attorney Answers 2


Defamation actions are rarely successful in America. See RHINEHART v. SEATTLE TIMES, 98 Wn.2d 226, 654 P.2d 673 (1982). (

[In accordance with the Avvo community guidelines, this communication does not constitute "legal advice", nor does it form an attorney-client relationship.]

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What is your legal question? You have not posed any questions. If you don't want to drop the complain, don't drop it. An employer is not a court of law. It is not bound by the rules of investigation and evidence or "innocent until proven guilty". Your employer can rely on flimsy allegations and hearsay to dismiss and discipline. Your boss is giving you his honest opinion that you'll do more harm than good for by filing the complaint. If you don't want to drop it, then don't. Keep in mind that WA is an "at will" employment state. This means you can be fired at any time without just cause as long as it is not related to your race, religion, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, familial status, and not in retaliation for whistleblowing illegal conduct, taking FMLA leave, and filing for disability/workers compensation.

We do not have an attorney-client relationship. I am not your lawyer. The statements I have made do not constitute legal advice. Any statements I have made are based upon the very limited facts you have presented, and under the premise that you will consult with a local attorney. This is not an attempt to solicit business. This disclaimer is in addition to any disclaimers that this website has made. I am only licensed in California.

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Apologies that my question wasn't clear. I wanted to know what my recourse is when I'm being defamed and threatened with retaliation ("more damage") if I follow through with a formal complaint about said defamation.

Golnar Sargeant

Golnar Sargeant


On the employment issue, if you are let go, or feel like that may be the case, get a consultation with a local plaintiff employment lawyer. Use the "find a lawyer" tool on AVVO. Most such lawyers provide free consultations, check beforehand. So you have nothing to lose for an assessment of your case by a local expert. Just keep in mind the "at will" doctrine I stated above. As for suing for defamation, in this country, it's mostly a lemon cause of action. Due to first amendment protections, it is a "disfavored tort". So it is made very hard to prove. Slander is spoken defamation; libel is written defamation. Opinions, slurs, name calling and insults are protected free speech. For Defamation, it has to be a false statement of fact published to a third party that damages your reputation. When a statement is borderline, a court will always err on the side of protecting the first amendment over a personal dispute. Employee evaluations and discipline are usually the employer's opinions (we get the "my boss gave me a bad review can I sue" question a lot on these boards--I know that's not your question, I'm just bringing up that example to make a point). The law thus far has deemed those as your employers' opinions and thus protects them from defamation suit. Think about it: otherwise, every time an employer gives someone a bad review or a write up, they could get sued. "John is lazy, the biggest liar I've ever met. I hate him. What an idiot"--totally protected. "I saw John steal money out of petty cash" is a statement of fact, which if false, can be defamation. But here's the other problem with defamation: you have to PROVE to the court you suffered economic damages as a result. i.e., put someone on the stand to say they didn't hire you, or didn't do business with you etc. Because it is so hard to prove and win, a lawyer will not take it on contingency. You'd have to pay the standard $5000 retainer plus their hourly fee. The other problem with defamation is that since truth is an absolute defense, once you sue, the other side has the right to conduct discovery on you, investigate you, get documents on you, depose people you know--to prove the truth of what they said. Even if it does not turn up anything, you'll in effect be letting the defendant take over your life, and you can not claim "privacy".

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