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Warn managers: False claim that employee lied can lead to defamation lawsuit

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Here’s a warning for managers or supervisors being investigated for sexual or other harassment: If they falsely accuse an alleged victim of lying, the victim may be able to sue the manager or supervisor for defamation.

And that could mean personal liability for the boss if a jury believes the alleged victim.

Recent case: Alicia Garcia worked for the Harlingen Police Department as a dispatcher. She was required to go on periodic “ride-alongs” with officers to become familiar with the city and the patrol officers’ work. On one such ride, Garcia claimed that her supervisor, with whom Garcia was riding, pulled the patrol car over and slipped her a note asking her to go out with him.

She refused and the supervisor drove her back to the station. Garcia said the supervisor warned her not to tell anyone.

Later, Garcia complained about not getting promotions and alleged it was because she hadn’t gone along with the supervisor’s invitation.

The supervisor then filed an internal complaint against Garcia, claiming she was lying about the alleged harassment. Garcia sued him for defamation.

The court ordered a trial. It said only a jury could determine what had really happened and determine whether the supervisor had falsely accused Garcia of lying. If so, the court said that would be defamation. (Garcia v. City of Harlingen and Ramos Vela, No. B-06-CV-134, SD TX, 2009)

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