Beware defamation claims based on discipline write-ups

Remind supervisors and managers to stick with verifiable and documented facts when writing up an employee for poor performance, a mistake or other disciplinary matter.

That’s because a false write-up could be grounds for a later defamation lawsuit.

Recent case: Emily Etienne worked as a pediatric intensive care nurse. When her supervisors wrote her up, she demanded a chance to refute the claims. The hospital refused, and Etienne was subsequently fired.

She sued, alleging various forms of discrimination—plus defamation, stemming from the write-up.

The court said that could be the basis for a defamation lawsuit. (Etienne v. Kaiser Foundation Hos­­pital, No. 11-02324, ND CA, 2011)

Final note: The case was dismissed on other technicalities. However, that doesn’t change the fact that you should always be prepared to show any charges against an employee are true.