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  1. #1
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    Default Possible Action Against Former Employer for Defamation

    My question involves defamation in the state of: California

    Hello, all. I am a long time reader, first time poster. I have an issue which I need some advice on, as I've done a little research on it but I am seeking others' feedback on the merits of a potential case.

    I am 20 years old, and for the past 2 years have held positions in retail loss prevention (apprehension and prosecution of shoplifters and corrupt employees). After my previous employer disbanded their LP department last summer, I was forced to seek work elsewhere or go on unemployment. Thankfully, I was hired as a Loss Prevention Agent at a major clothing retailer. (My previous LP experience was in a drug store / retail company). While I was hired directly by Rite Aid for my first position, the clothing store contracted their undercover loss prevention services to a private security company. However, the retailer maintained a district Loss Prevention Manager to oversee the employees and coordinate LP coverage with the security company's area manager.

    I began working at the company in the beginning of July, and started off on the right foot. I made a number of apprehensions, and never had any problems or complaints. The only issue I had was on my second report, I referred to the shoplifter in my report as I had been trained by Rite Aid and local police departments and the county sheriff that routinely responded to shoplifting calls, using the format "RACE/SEX/ADULT-JUVENILE", whereas the clothing retailer preferred to use abbreviations. For example, a white female adult shoplifter would be referred to "WFA" as opposed to "white female adult". After being talked to by my supervisor and having him clarify the policy, I was told no further action would be taken.

    One Sunday evening at the end of July, I apprehended two females for shoplifting, with one being the perpetrator and one being the accomplice. (Perp had the items in her purse while the accomplice was concealing the items in the perp's purse but had nothing on her person.) Both subjects were apprehended and released to the local police department for prosecution, with a total take near $700.

    By chance, the company's Loss Prevention Manager, who had just landed back in the area from an out-of-state business trip happened to call the store around 8PM. I explained the stop to him and he seemed impressed. We talked for about 3 minutes and then he informed me he had to go, but that it was a job well done. I then telephoned my supervisor and informed him of the stop per standard procedures, explaining their actions, my actions, and the disposition of the case (arrested, released, cited, etc.)

    As part of our standard procedures when a shoplifter is apprehended, I wrote a report detailing the apprehension and disposition and faxed it to the clothing company's LPM, whom I had spoken with on the phone earlier. Several weeks passed, and I heard nothing of it.

    Then, in the middle of August, my supervisor, who answers to the clothing store's LPM, arrived at my store while I was working and said that the LPM wanted me to re-write my statement. I complied, and my supervisor and I parted ways. Several days later, my supervisor re-appeared at my store and requested I explain the events of that Sunday evening in July again. I did, and my supervisor then informed me that the LPM thought I said that both of the subjects had items on their person and were both perpetrators, as opposed to one being a perpetrator and one being an accomplice. Apparently the LPM read my report and felt that I had lied to him and that I could not be trusted. My supervisor made it clear to me that he did not agree with the LPM's feelings about the matter, since as soon as I was done talking to the LPM, I called my supervisor and told him the exact same thing, which was further confirmed when I sent my report into the office.

    On August 19, I received a call from my supervisor stating that I was suspended, even going so far as saying, "[the LPM] is not letting this thing go. He feels you lied to him and wants you gone." Several days later I was informed that I had a final check waiting for me at the office, and I needed to conduct exit paperwork. On my termination paperwork, the cause for termination was stated as "Not being truthful to the client". I was given an opportunity to write down my feelings and thoughts, and did so.

    As soon as I was let go, I began searching for another job. I had interviews at 4 other companies for an LP position, however in each of my interviews I was forced to explain why I was no longer with the clothing retailer's contracted Loss Prevention unit. I was not hired at any position I applied for. Being terminated from a position that has inherent trust, honesty, and integrity associated with it for being untruthful is very serious and was devastating to what I had hoped would be a career in retail loss prevention. No one wants to hire someone for a position of extreme responsibility and integrity if one was fired for "lying".

    The supervisor at the old security company that contracted with the clothing retailer is no longer with them, he went on to become a police officer, and the new supervisor knows nothing about the case. I have since found another job, but it is a commission sales position, with no guaranteed income. I started that job in October and was unemployed until then. I was denied unemployment insurance after being terminated from the security company.

    The LPM of the clothing company threatened to sever the contract with the security company if I was still employed with them, and thus the security company was forced to let me go. The LPM had no basis for his accusations, and that is backed up not only by my report, but also by the telephone conversation I had with my former supervisor (now a Police Officer). By terminating me for "lying", my career in Loss Prevention was cut short before it even began. I was unemployed for 2 months, and was forced to use credit to sustain myself. I was unable to enroll in classes for one semester as I didn't have enough money to do so. The lost income was $4,480 ($14/hr x 40hrs x 8 weeks).

    My question is this: by falsely accusing me of lying, I believe the LPM defamed my character. Do I have a case against him personally? I realize that California is an at-will employment state, but since I was not employed by him (or his company - remember, we were contracted to a private security firm), did his threats violate any laws? His false accusations against me also cost me any hopes of getting another job in the LP field. I would prefer to take action in small claims court, as I'm not trying to bankrupt the man, I just need to pay off some of the debt I ran up while I was unemployed (thanks to him) and would like for him to realize that he hurt me not only financially, but emotionally, as Loss Prevention was my passion, and he shattered it, all because he thought I said something I didn't. Lying would serve no purpose, we were paid an hourly rate, with no bonus for the number of people caught, etc. Both my former supervisor and I think he misunderstood me, and that is a huge possibility, considering he just landed from a week long business trip, and it was 8pm on a Sunday evening. But to accuse me of lying, and saying I can not be trusted is taking things too far.

    I look forward to everyone's input. Sorry for the rambling.

    Regards,
    Mark

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Possible Action Against Former Employer for Defamation

    Mark, your problems are severalfold but I'll start with the main two that I see.

    The LPM is entitled to his opinion - whether it reflected the actual truth is, at this point, irrelevant. He evidently thought you were lying. The fact that you were unable to obtain UI is another point against you since that does imply some wrongdoing on your part.

    Next, defamation actions are not heard in small claims court. They are terribly expensive to litigate - you're talking tens of thousands of dollars and several years - and the chances of a regular citizen (as opposed to someone famous) collecting from another regular citizen are virtually nil.

    I realize that you've had an extremely disappointing and hurtful experience but I cannot see any legal recourse for you.

    Try to enjoy the holiday season, and look forward.
    An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise - Victor Hugo

    Do not microwave grapes

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Possible Action Against Former Employer for Defamation

    Dogmatique,

    Thanks for your insight. I wasn't aware small claims court doesn't hear cases of defamation, so thank you for that bit of information.

    I should clarify, I was denied UI because I was enrolled in too many units in school at the time to be considered "availible to work full time," however I only attended classes once per week on campus, though for the entire day, not because of gross misconduct in the workplace. I was stating that I was denied UI because that damaged my financial stability.

    In order to prove anything in court, would I need to prove the LPM intended to be malicious? Or simply that the termination was unjustified?

    To put it in perspective, I am a 20-year old college student, who has worked LP for 2 years, and is damn good at what I did. (10+ arrests per day!) The LPM is an old (70), retired cop, who is smug and never likes to be wrong. He threw me under the bus because he did not want to admit he may have been wrong.

    I feel like I have no other options other than to persue legal recourse, but it sounds like not even that would be possible.

    Any suggestions?

    -Mark

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Possible Action Against Former Employer for Defamation

    I can't answer the "malicious" question, but I can answer the wrongful termination question.

    In order for a termination to be wrongful under the law, a specific LAW or public policy must have been violated. For example, if you were terminated solely because of your race or gender, or because you reported an alleged violation of law to the appropriate regulatory agency (e.g., wage and hour, or OSHA). It does NOT mean a termination was "unjustified", which is a subjective opinion.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Possible Action Against Former Employer for Defamation

    I am no expert, but the problem I see with these sorts of issues is this:

    A. You will spend more pursuing charges than you lost (and will lose more income in the process while spending time in court)
    B. In some states (NC I know for sure) companies are practically allowed to fire you for anything besides sex/race and regularly lie about their reasons (to you, unemployment offices, etc).
    C. In other words, companies practically get away with whatever they want and laws in some states encourage it.

    The thing is though, they (at least in NC according to what I've been told) are not allowed to say ANYTHING negative about your employment. I'm not sure about CA, but if that is the case in CA. You might have a case simply because they had anything negative to say about your employment. I guess that's worth asking a lawyer. If so, you could pursue charges for that and skip defamation. Something to think about at least.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Possible Action Against Former Employer for Defamation

    Quote Quoting Chris Grooms
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    B. In some states (NC I know for sure) companies are practically allowed to fire you for anything besides sex/race and regularly lie about their reasons (to you, unemployment offices, etc).
    Not true at all. There are several protectected characteristics in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which make terminations based solely on any of the protected reasons illegal. Race and sex (gender) are not the only ones.

    The thing is though, they (at least in NC according to what I've been told) are not allowed to say ANYTHING negative about your employment. I'm not sure about CA, but if that is the case in CA. You might have a case simply because they had anything negative to say about your employment.
    Wrong again. In EVERY state, an employer may say anything that is true, what they believe to be true, or is their honestly held opinion. If you believe to the contrary, please post the California law that says so.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Possible Action Against Former Employer for Defamation

    Quote Quoting PattyPA
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    Not true at all. There are several protectected characteristics in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which make terminations based solely on any of the protected reasons illegal. Race and sex (gender) are not the only ones.



    Wrong again. In EVERY state, an employer may say anything that is true, what they believe to be true, or is their honestly held opinion. If you believe to the contrary, please post the California law that says so.


    Patti - Chris has several axes to grind, in the legal sense. I suggest you look up the post history

    An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise - Victor Hugo

    Do not microwave grapes

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Possible Action Against Former Employer for Defamation

    Quote Quoting PattyPA
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    Wrong again. In EVERY state, an employer may say anything that is true, what they believe to be true, or is their honestly held opinion. If you believe to the contrary, please post the California law that says so.
    This is not exactly correct. An employer can make statements that are true and still be liable. For example: Bob, who worked for the company steals $100 from a co-worker's desk. George, another employee, is fired the day after Bob stole the money. The company says: George was fired after $100 was stolen from a co-worker's desk. The company's statement is 100% true. But the company would be liable for making such a statement. The problem the OP has is that there is no wrongful discharge cause of action ; and no evidence of defamation will likely ever be found. Sounds like the company simply did not like the reports that the OP wrote up. I don't usually like to get nit-picky & my assessment of Patty's statement would generally not have been posted but for the fact that Patty was to nit-picky regarding Chris' posting which I did not see an issue with. People who post are not writing a legal brief wherein every aspect of the written post is reviewed by the poster to the degree that one would do for a legal brief. In this thread, I actually see nothing wrong with either what Patty or Chris posted because the "errors" are not relevant to this threads set of facts before it.

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