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  1. #1
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    Oct 2018
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    Default Customer Complaint About a Store Employee Shared with Other Employees

    My question involves defamation in the state of: California

    A store employee ("Joe") had a history of following a customer around the store for over a year and out into the parking lot after she left under the guise of getting her cart back. The customer ignored this behavior until the employee followed her to the far end of the shopping complex, again under the pretext of getting her cart back. The incident made the customer nervous and fear for her safety.

    As she felt sufficiently threatened by his behavior, the customer called the employer and complained about Joe to the store manager. The manager ("Betty") called Joe in to talk to him about the complaint and he denied that he had ever stalked the customer, and insisted that he had merely wanted to get the cart back. The manager let it go after a warning, and considered the matter as "closed".

    The customer avoided the store for over a month. When she finally did go in, she was nervous and asked ANOTHER employee ("Sandra") if Joe was in the store and if he still worked there. When Sandra asked the customer why she wanted to know this, the woman blabbered that Joe had a history of stalking her every time she was in the store and following her out to her car when she left (always under the pretext of getting her cart back), and had only finally complained about him when he had followed her to a far and lonely end of the shopping complex, that Joe made her uncomfortable and that she just didn't want to run into him in case there was a "problem". Sandra confirmed that Joe still worked at the store and that he was off for the day and then gossiped about the incident to all of her (and Joe's) co-workers. Joe was ridiculed / laughed at as a "creepy stalker".

    An enraged Joe then approached Betty (the manager) and accused her of sharing - in his opinion - a FALSE customer complaint with the other employees and turning the workplace into a hostile environment. Betty had not shared the customer complaint with anyone but Joe (due to employee confidentiality / privacy) although she had warned Joe to not follow or otherwise harass the customer again.

    Does Joe have a case for defamation against the customer ? Against the manager ? Against Sandra, his gossipy co-worker ?

    Thanks.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Customer Complaint About a Store Employee Shared with Other Employees

    Who are you in this scenario?

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Customer Complaint About a Store Employee Shared with Other Employees

    Quote Quoting cbg
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    Who are you in this scenario?
    The student

    nothing described would be defamation.

  4. #4
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    Oct 2014
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    Default Re: Customer Complaint About a Store Employee Shared with Other Employees

    Quote Quoting CUSlander
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    Does Joe have a case for defamation against the customer? Against the manager ? Against Sandra, his gossipy co-worker ?

    This is at least the second time I've read this exact same set of facts on a legal discussion board in the last year. So let me ask: is this homework?

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Customer Complaint About a Store Employee Shared with Other Employees

    No, it's not "homework". I am one of the parties above but being intentionally vague about who I am in this situation to protect my privacy.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Customer Complaint About a Store Employee Shared with Other Employees

    Joe does not have a case for anything against anyone.

    Joe may believe he has a right to privacy in the workplace but with limited exceptions that do not apply here, he is wrong.

    That's all you get until I know who you are.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Customer Complaint About a Store Employee Shared with Other Employees

    Quote Quoting CUSlander
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    Does Joe have a case for defamation against the customer ? Against the manager ? Against Sandra, his gossipy co-worker ?
    Defamation requires, among other things, a false statement of fact. Nothing in your post suggests anyone made any false statements of fact. Saying, "I think he's stalking me," is not a statement of fact.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
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    Default Re: Customer Complaint About a Store Employee Shared with Other Employees

    and there is nothing illegal about what the customer said or did. The employee made the customer afraid/scared/threatened enough that they (1) complained (2) avoided the store and then (3) asked about it the next time they came in. If I were the manager, I would speak to Sandra about not gossiping, but employers have to be careful about what they tell employees NOT to discuss with one another (NLRA/NLRB protects "concerted activity" to talk to each other about work-related issues). In the end it was the customer that blabbed the situation not the manager. And while Sandra probably should have just brought the situation to a manager's attention, it is possible that others have also gotten creepy vibes from "Joe" and this customer confirmed it and Sandra was checking to see if other employees got the same feelings.

  9. #9
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    Oct 2014
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    Default Re: Customer Complaint About a Store Employee Shared with Other Employees

    Quote Quoting CUSlander
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    No, it's not "homework". I am one of the parties above but being intentionally vague about who I am in this situation to protect my privacy.
    Curious then that I have seen this exact same fact pattern before. Did you post this on some legal site before and just not like the answers that you there? I'll take you at your word that this is not homework and provide you some help with the issues here, however.

    Quote Quoting CUSlander
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    Does Joe have a case for defamation against the customer? Against the manager ? Against Sandra, his gossipy co-worker ?
    In order for it to be defamation it the defendant must have communicated a false statement of fact about Joe to another and as a result of that communication damaged Joe's reputation. Note that statements of opinion, no matter how negative or hurtful, are not defamatory. So the first issue is whether the customer made any false statements of fact. It does not seem to be disputed that Joe did follow this customer out to the parking lot on at least one occasion and likely more. So it would appear that the customer's statements about Joe following her out would be true and thus not defamatory.

    The customer's statement's that she perceived what Joe was doing to be stalking would generally be taken as opinion and thus not defamtory either. Her expressions of being nervous and fearing for her safety as a result of what Joe did are likely opinion too, but even if regarded as fact are not defamatory if that is truly how she felt. It's nearly impossible to prove she didn't feel that way absent some admission on her part stating she lied about it.

    Clearly Joe has no claim against the manager as the manager did not make any statements to anyone about this. Defamation requires communication to another, i.e. to someone other than Joe, and the manager apparently did not do that.

    As for the co-workers, repeating defamatory statements can sometimes itself be defamation, though exactly what was said does matter. The problem, of course, is that if the customer's statements were not defamation then the other employees repeating those statements would not be defamation either. Even if the customer was defamatory, if the employes said something like "This customer told me that _______" and just states what the customer said, that statement might not be defamatory since the statement is literally true: the customer did tell the employee what she alleged Joe did.

    Even if someone made a defamatory statement, the issue arises what damages Joe suffered from it. While he might be able to argue that the statement is defamatory per se and thus he does not need to plead special damages in California, the reality is that few juries are going to award much for defamation that does not actually result in some kind of financial loss. More specifically, I don't see Joe getting much for simply being the butt of some jokes in the workplace over this. Defamation cases are difficult to win and expensive to litigate, so unless he could be assured of some significant judgment it would generally not be worthwhile to pursue.

    Joe may certainly consult an attorney in California to determine whether he might have a worthwhile claim to bring. Just based on what you said here I'm not seeing it but perhaps when Joe explains all the details the attorney he consults might say he's got a good case. He should not get his hopes up real high on that though.

    And by the way, the legal definition of a "hostile work environment" is not what most people think it is. While Joe may perceive it as hostile his circumstances do not meet what is needed for a lawsuit regarding a hostile work environment. Those lawsuits involve claims of illegal discrimination (i.e. discrimination because of the employees race, color, national origin, citizenship religion, sex, age (if the employee is at least age 40), disability, or genetic test information under federal law).

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2016
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    Default Re: Customer Complaint About a Store Employee Shared with Other Employees

    I'm wondering if this is the Dad from the suspiciously-similar thread: https://www.expertlaw.com/forums/sho...=shopping+cart

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