The best response is probably a letter from an attorney. Regretfully, it sounds like your former employer is doing what s/he can do to avoid paying for your services . Your only real options are to write it off, or lawyer up.
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You definitely need Illinois counsel. The best response is the TRUTH, assuming it is helpful. That would also lay the basis for your defamation claim. But, before you talk to the client, get legal advice about your most effective next step.
Defamation is defined as the publication of one or more false and unprivileged statements of fact to one or more third parties concerning an identifiable party, which publication harms that party’s reputation. In Illinois, a statement can be defamatory per se, where its meaning is apparent on its face and there is no need to prove actual harm. Illinois recognizes five categories of such statements: a statement imputing an inability to perform or want of professional integrity in performing employment duties; words that prejudice a person or impute a lack of ability in a person’s profession; a statement that imputes the commission of a crime; a statement that imputes infection with some loathsome communicable disease; and words that impute a person has engaged in adultery or fornication. Assigning a monetary figure to presumed damages (mental suffering, harm to personal and professional reputation as well as standing in the community, economic loss, and personal humiliation) can be very difficult; it tends to be an inexact and arbitrary process. Alternatively, the statement can be defamatory per quod, requiring extrinsic evidence (where the defamatory character of the statement does not appear on its face). A statement that is defamatory on its face but does not fall within one of the five categories above is also per quod. Some defenses include truth, consent, innocent construction, absolute privilege (e.g., a statement made in a judicial or legislative proceedings, or to the police), conditional or qualified privilege (e.g., where the public has an interest in receiving the information), opinion, and the fair report privilege (public reports of governmental proceedings). With respect to the litigation privilege, that covers any statement made during any phase preliminary to or required for the proceeding (assuming the statement is pertinent to same, which requirement is generally liberally construed). This is an incredibly complex and fact-specific area of the law. False light invasion of privacy is a tort that is oftentimes plead alongside defamation. You may want to sit down with an attorney and all relevant documents to discuss. Good luck!
Robert T. Kuehl
Kuehl Law, P.C.
The best response is a letter from an attorney in the state where the accuser is located threatening a defamation suit for putting you in a false light that impugns your integrity and thus threatens your career, with a request for major compensation in the form of damages. That should get the client to back of the claim. DO NOT make any comment, threat or statement to that effect yourself. That should only come from a litigation attorney as a warning shot across the bow. It would be an unusual client that will want to defend, particularly if you have anything in writing to (a) prove the plagiarism charge was made, (2) prove when it was made [i.e that it was a bogus payment dodge] and anything to document that you did not plagiarize.
I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.