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Employee Relations and Court Rule

Read each case and decide how the court should rule. Fully explain your reasoning for the decision. Provide references.

1. Gail Davis worked as an executive assistant to Motown legend Diana Ross. After about a year, the woman voluntarily resigned. About a year later, Diana Ross wrote and distributed the following letter:

"To Whom It May Concern:
The following people are no longer in my employment. [List of former employees including Gail Davis]. If I let an employee go, it's because either their work or their personal habits are not acceptable to me. I do not recommend these people. In fact, if you hear from these people, and they use my name as a reference, I wish to be contacted."

Gail Davis had not used Ms. Ross as a reference, nor had any employer requested information from Ms. Ross about Gail Davis. Ms Davis sued Ms. Ross. What should the court decide? Why?

2. A truck driver applied for a job. The prospective employer contacted former employers, including another trucking company that had terminated the applicant's employment two years ago. The report from the previous employer indicated that that the applicant had been arrested while he worked for them and he had tested positive for drugs. The office worker who completed the report based on personnel records later acknowledged that the statement about the positive drug test was a "mistake on her part." Regarding the arrest, the company had received several reports that the driver had been involved in an altercation with another truck driver at a truck stop and put the information in his personal file. However, there is no official record of an arrest and no proof that it ever happened. The applicant was not hired and sued his former employer for defamation. What should the court decide? Why?

Solution Preview

1. This case is very interesting due to the fact that it represents a case of defamation of character, but this form of defamation of character would be referred to as libel, due to the fact that the defamation takes place in the form of a written letter. The fact that there are special rules for proving libel against a celebrity such as Ms. Ross, there would be a group of factors that would have to be proven in order to constitute libel, and due to the fact they are not all met in this situation, the court should rule that libel was not proven in this case. The first thing that would have to be proven in this situation that can be easily done, is prove that the statement made by Ms. Ross is false. The way that the letter is written by Ms. Ross implies that all of the individuals that are listed on no longer under her employment due to the fact that these individuals' work or personal habits were not acceptable to Ms. Ross. This would be a false implication or implied reference to Gail Davis, due to the fact that Gail Davis was not fired by Ms. Ross left on her own. This would make implied statement that Gail Davis along with others was terminated from employment with Ms. Ross a totally false implication, which would be easily proven in a court of law by the simple fact that Ms. Davis resigned a full year before Ms. Ross wrote her letter of condemnation. This would be the first element in proving that libel was committed by Ms. Ross against Ms. Davis. This is one of the factors or components of libel that have been proven in this case. The next component of libel was not proven in this case, due to the fact that it is necessary for the letter to have caused Ms. Davis some form of harm in order for this element to be proven. Due to the fact that Ms. Ross was not utilized as a reference by Ms. Davis, and no employee had requested information from Ms. Ross about Ms. Davis, this letter has not done any harm to Ms. Davis that could be proven in a court of law. This is an element of libel/defamation ...