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California Employees Defamation Blog

Written by Paul Greenberg and edited by Jane Tanimura

Defenses to Defamation

California law recognizes a number of defenses to defamation claims. Some of the most major defenses to defamation are:

Truth: proof that a defamatory statement is true is a complete defense because falsity is an essential element of both slander and libel.

The alleged defamatory statement was merely a statement of opinion not fact: only false statements of fact or opinions that insinuate that they are based on undisclosed defamatory facts are actionable.

Retraction: in cases involving publication of a libel in a newspaper or of a slander by radio broadcast, if a defamer retracts the allegedly defamatory statement that often will serve as a defense to any defamation lawsuit, especially if the defamer also apologizes.

Lack of publication: lack of publication is a complete defense because publication is an essential element of both slander and libel. To prove the element of publication, the defendant must have uttered or distributed the defamatory statement to east least one person other than the plaintiff.

Privilege: California law recognizes two types of privileges, the absolute privilege and the conditional privilege, both of which may immunize an employer from liability if he or she can show that certain criteria are met.

Of these defenses, perhaps one of the most frequently argued by employers is the privilege defense. Future posts will discuss this defense in more detail and the distinction between the absolute privilege and the conditional privilege.

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Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, but Words Can Destroy My Reputation

June 2014 – In an article published in Advocate: Journal of Consumer Attorneys Associations for Southern California, partner Iris Weinmann gives an overview of defamation claims, especially defamation by employers against employees.

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What Qualifies as Actionable Defamation: Fact vs. Opinion

Not every false, offensive, and mean-spirited remark will justify a defamation suit. It is not enough that a statement is inherently hurtful and injurious to your reputation. For it to be actionable, a statement must assert or at least imply a false fact about you. A mere expression of opinion is not actionable under California defamation law unless it insinuates that it is based on some undisclosed defamatory facts. See Okun v. Superior Court (1981) 29 Cal.3d 442, 451-52.

Continue reading: What Qualifies as Actionable Defamation: Fact vs. Opinion

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What is the Statute of Limitations for Defamation and When Does it Begin to Run?

California’s statute of limitations for defamation is one year.  Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 340(c).  Because the “rule of discovery” applies to defamation, the one year statute of limitations does not begin to run until the defamed victim actually discovers or reasonably should have discovered the defamatory statement.  This means that even though a defamatory statement may have been made about you two, three, four or more years ago, you may still have an actionable claim for defamation so long as you file a lawsuit within one year of discovering that this defamatory statement was made about you.

Continue reading: What is the Statute of Limitations for Defamation and When Does it Begin to Run?

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My Employer Has Published False Critisism About My Work Performance. Does California Law Allow That?

The publication, whether oral or written, of false criticism of poor performance, incompetence, or dishonesty—whether made in the context of a performance review or as the employer’s stated reason for the employee’s termination—is defamation per se. Employers often argue that they are immune from liability for these statements based on the defense of “conditional privilege,” which grants immunity against defamation for communications made on subjects of mutual interest (i.e. publisher makes the defamatory statement to a person who has a common interest in the subject matter of the statement).

Continue reading: My Employer Has Published False Critisism About My Work Performance. Does California Law Allow...

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What is Defamation and Why Does it Matter in the Employment Context?

Good character takes a lifetime to build. "It is probably the dearest possession that a man has, and once lost is almost impossible to regain. The possession of a good reputation is conducive to happiness in life and contentment. The loss of it, . . . brings shame, misery and heartache." McCoy v. Hearst, 42 Cal.3d 835, 858 fn.22 (1986). For these reasons, the law has a strong interest in redressing the harm done to a person's reputation and recognizes that a person has a right not to be defamed by false statements.

Defamation is a legal right provided by California statute. See California Civil Code §§ 44, 45a, and 46. Generally, it is a false statement of fact that harms a person's reputation and is read or heard by someone other than the person being talked about. When the statement is made orally, it's called slander; a written statement is called libel.

Continue reading: What is Defamation and Why Does it Matter in the Employment Context?

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About Paul Greenberg and
Greenberg & Weinmann

paul greenberg

Paul Greenberg is managing partner of Greenberg & Weinmann, a law firm that is committed to advancing justice in the workplace and protecting employee rights. For over 25 years, (the last 20 with partner Iris Weinmann), he has handled legal claims on behalf of employees, including over 50 defamation cases that have resulted in significant compensatory and punitive damages and Labor Code section 1050 penalties, in both state and federal court. Greenberg & Weinmann has successfully litigated defamation claims to verdict and received favorable appellate court decisions upholding or reinstating employee rights with respect to their defamation claims. Greenberg & Weinmann is based in Santa Monica, California but litigates statewide.

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The information contained above is intended for purely informational purposes.
It does not in any way constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. 
Use of such material does not, in any way, constitute an attorney-client relationship; only an express signed agreement can create such a relationship.

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