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Employer asks Supreme Court to reverse employee defamation award

Employment disputes range from employees being unhappy with a dress code to allegations of wrongful termination. Employees may believe they are being asked to perform duties outside the limits of their employment contract. Employers generally know they have to be very careful what they say when they are called to give a work reference for an employee or former employee. If they make disparaging statements about the person, they may find themselves the target of defamation litigation.

Although few employment disputes find their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a case involving an airline and one of its pilots is pending; a decision is expected in 2014. Attorneys for both sides recently presented oral arguments.

The case began in 2004 when a pilot became involved in a argument with another employee. Later that day, after the pilot boarded one of his employer's planes as a passenger, the airline called the Transportation and Safety Administration and asked that the pilot be removed from the plane as a security risk. 

TSA authorities removed the pilot from the plane. Their investigation found no cause for alarm; the pilot was not armed and he was cleared to re-board the plane. He chose to take an alternative flight instead.

Subsequently, the pilot sued the airline for defamation and won $1.4 million in damages. The suit wound its way through appellate courts before being granted review before the U.S. Supreme Court. The airline is hoping that the high court will find the airline immune from defamation lawsuits when it acts on any perceived threat to airline security and has a passenger removed.

Defamation can happen when someone makes an intentionally false statement about another person. Employees who have been mistreated or fallen victim to employment defamation have the right to take legal action against their employer. 

Source: MySA, “Justices hear dispute between airline, pilot,” Mark Sherman, Dec. 9, 2013

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