This post explains the basics of employee defamation law via a case study. If you have questions for an attorney that handles employee defamation cases, click here.
A disgruntled employee trashes your company online. What are your legal options? One possibility: sue for defamation – which is precisely what a law firm in Texas did.
Former Employee Defamation Case Study: Hammond Law Group, PLLC v. Kwok
Here are the known facts of Hammond Law Group, PLLC v. Kwok — an employee defamation lawsuit:
Currently Known Facts Of The Case
- Wing Ching Kwok – a.k.a. Leo – worked at the Hammond Law Group (“HLG”) for about five months.
- The working relationship between Kwok and HLG wasn’t an employee-employer match made in heaven.
- A few months into Leo’s employ at the firm, the parties decided to part ways.
- Former employee Leo vented about his ex-employer, HLG, on review websites like Yelp.com, Glassdoor.com, and Lawyers.com. Samples of his posts include:
- “Do not hire this firm to resolve your tax issues. They will overcharge you thousands of dollars, then toss your stuff aside to collect dust.”
- “They are only willing to hire law students for an ‘unpaid internship,’ then go on to make you do mostly paperwork.”
- “Do yourself a favor and find another place to handle your tax liens and wage garnishments and such. You will be saving yourself time, effort, and thousands of dollars.”
- “Only two people working on 100+ cases…”
- Convinced of Kwok’s authorship, HLG brass contacted him and asked that he cease posting “false and defamatory” content.
- Since Kwok was never a firm client, he agreed to remove his rants on lawyers.com and Yelp. He also promised not to post subsequent reviews of the firm “as a customer.” But Kwok left the criticism on glassdoor.com because, in Kwok’s words, “I have made no false claims [on glassdoor.com] since I was a legitimate previous employee.”
What Plaintiffs Must Prove To Win An Employee Defamation Lawsuit
It’ll be interesting to see how this defamation lawsuit between a disgruntled employee and employer resolves. To win, HLG will have to prove (generally speaking, every case is different) that:
- Kwok made a false statement of fact about HLG;
- The statement materially hurt HLG in some manner; and
- Kwok negligently published the false statement of fact.
Point 3 wouldn’t be difficult to prove in this instance if — (and in a defamation lawsuit that “if” is the ultimate crux of the case, as truth trumps all in many libel and slander cases) — Kwok isn’t telling the truth. But the plaintiffs may have a hard time proving point 2. After all, Kwok removed most of the offending material in a timely manner, so the harm caused is probably up for debate.
Moreover, the comment Kwok left on glassdoor.com wasn’t client-focused, but instead about the HLG office atmosphere. Since both sides concede that Kwok worked at the firm, his views on the HLG work environment are valid – or at the very least legally acceptable; after all, free speech is free speech — even when we don’t agree.
Given the statements at hand, intrinsically, the potential false statement of fact with the most “actionable heat” is the one on Glassdoor.com. If the assertion isn’t true, the law firm has a shot. If it is, well…
At this point, it’s impossible to predict a victor.
Speak With A Business Defamation Attorney
If you need a defamation lawyer, consider consulting with Kelly / Warner. We’re an AV-rated, well-regarded legal practice that handles all manners of slander and libel lawsuits. Our success rate is enviable, and we know the libel/slander niche exceptionally well.
Kelly / Warner lawyers can clear up your online reputation or former employee defamation challenge – quickly and quietly. We look forward to speaking with you soon.