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Employee takes false allegations to the press? You can sue for defamation

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Here’s a novel approach for em­­ployers falsely accused of discrimination in the press. If you win the discrimination case, you may be able to sue the employee for defamation.

Recent case: Sandra, who has gray hair, worked as a Capital Title branch manager for about eight years until she was terminated. Sandra told a reporter she was suing because she had been fired for refusing to dye her hair. The Houston Chroni­­cle published her allegations. (See “Sure, the Galleria is swanky, but is it worth a lawsuit?”)

When Sandra sued, Capital Title countersued for defamation, claiming the news reports harmed its image.

It also asked the court to toss out Sandra’s age discrimination claim, arguing that it fired her because of customer complaints about rudeness and a generally unpleasant demeanor—not her gray hair.

Sandra claimed that the day before she was fired, her boss told her that she should wear “clothes that are more appropriate for the workplace,” and perhaps get her “hair trimmed and dyed.” Capital Title countered that the next day, Sandra arrived late, smelled like alcohol, wore inappropriate clothing and refused to do her work. That’s when it fired her.

The court dismissed Sandra’s age discrimination case, concluding there was good reason for firing her. It also said the defamation coun­­ter­­claim could proceed based on Sandra’s comments to the press. (Raw­­line v. Capital Title, No. H-11-2379, SD TX, 2012)

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