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How You Explain a Discharge Could Lead to a Defamation Claim

As ESPN just discovered, your explanation of why you discharged someone could land you in court.  When Brooke Hundley, a 22-year-old female production assistant, admitted to an affair with baseball commentator and former Mets GM, Steve Philips, ESPN fired her for what the company called “misconduct.”  ESPN went on to tell the press that Hundley’s statements regarding her relationship with Philips were “inconsistent.”  Hundley’s attorney is now using these statements as the basis for a defamation suit. 

Employers can learn valuable lessons from this.   

  1. If at all possible, do not publically discuss negative employment actions outside the company, especially with the press!  For most of us, this step is easy as few people care who most employers fire. 
  2. For the few employers where the public is interested in your employment decisions, be sure your descriptions are accurate.   Do not “spin” your story beyond where the facts allow. 
  3. If your statements are going public, get legal counsel to review your strategy before your words are in the public domain.
  4. Finally, keep your fingers crossed.  Despite your best efforts, all of us are susceptible to lawsuits, whether they are well founded or not!