A finance broker sued colleagues for professional defamation and won millions of dollars in damages. The reputation-related case serves as a cautionary tale against workplace gossiping.
Meet Svetlana Lokhova: Finance Prodigy & Reputation Attack Victim
With a history degree in hand, Svetlana Lokhova – a Cambridge University grad – eschewed ruins for rubles when she took a job with big money brokerage firm Sberbank CIB.
Moving On Up The Corporate Ladder
Go-getter Lokhova quickly climbed the Sberbank rungs; within a few years, she was banking the big bucks. But Lokhova’s meteoric rise was not without turbulence. According to reports, she locked horns with colleagues over insider trading allegations, and eventually opted to alert authorities about the indiscretions.
In the whistleblowing wake, things at the office became untenable for the academic-turned-banker. According to Lokhova, colleagues attacked her reputation, mercilessly. Hecklers taunted: “Mad Svetlana”, “Miss Dodgy Septum” and “Crazy Miss Cokehead”. The Sberbank bullies even went so far as to label Lokhova a “chemically dependent…b*tch” and “major car crash”.
Workplace Gossip Becomes Brutal
Work became a living nightmare for Lokhova, and the office atmosphere had a “seriously detrimental effect on [her] health.” According to her, the situation also triggered “chronic and long-term symptoms” that drove her to “mental collapse”.
But instead of letting her detractors get the better of her, Lokhova fought back via a legal action.
The Central London Employment Tribunal Weighs In On Lokhova’s Professional Defamation Case
Lokhova took her case to the Central London Employment Tribunal (CLET), an official body, with authority to rule on certain workplace legal disputes. Preemptively, Lokhova took a drug test – and passed – to prove the addiction accusations false. After reviewing the facts, the CLET sided with Lokhova, awarding her a total of $2.3 million.
Though pleased with the decision, Lokhova lamented that she “could never return to financial services again” because “everybody knows everybody’s business in banking and people believe there is no smoke without fire. My reputation has been shredded.”
Maturely, instead of decrying the tribunal’s ruling, a Sberbank spokesperson vowed that the finance firm is “committed to take on board any lessons to be learned.”
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In This Article You’ll Find:
Casino mogul Steve Wynn lost round one of his professional defamation lawsuit against financier James “Jim” Chanos. Wynn has till January 15, 2015 to appeal – and according to all reports, he plans to do just that.
The Wynn v. Chanos slander lawsuit is a good one to review because it touches on the important crux of American defamation case law – the all-mighty First Amendment.
Why Did Wynn Sue Chanos For Professional Defamation?
At A Lecture: “The SEC investigated Wynn.”
A lecture circuit veteran, earlier in the year, Chanos gave a talk at the University of California at Berkley. During the event, Chanos mentioned a since abandoned federal investigation of Wynn’s operation for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Ultimately, the investigation went nowhere, as officials didn’t find “reliable evidence of FCPA violations.”
At the Berkley lecture, Chanos did note that the SEC’s investigation didn’t illuminate any evidence against Wynn Resorts Ltd and related parties.
Wynn Filed Lawsuit
Regardless, Wynn wasn’t pleased with Chanos’ lecture – and opinions therein; so, in September 2014, the casino king filed a professional defamation lawsuit against the money man.
But it doesn’t look like Wynn will win this slander case.
Judge Sides With Chanos Because Wynn Made Too Big Of A Leap
District Judge William Orrick explained his ruling in favor of Chanos thusly:
“It takes a significant inferential leap to conclude that Chanos’s general uncertainty about the questionable business methods in Macau equates to an assertion that Wynn violated the FCPA.”
Did Judge Orrick slyly and subtly insinuate: “doth protest too much, maybe, Mr. Wynn?”
No False Statement of Fact
The most important thing to remember about professional defamation law in the US: In order to win, your claim must be centered on a false statement of fact, not an opinion nor speculation. If it were against the law to speculate about businesses, politics or people, the news and entertainment industries would be forced closed by way of excessive litigation.
Defamation law in the U.S. is defendant-friendly: In 98% of cases, to win, a plaintiff must prove the defendant made an unprivileged, false statement of fact. Negative opinions or critiques do not a valid defamation case make.
What must a plaintiff prove to win a defamation of character lawsuit in the United States?
Generally speaking, in every U.S. jurisdiction, in order to win a defamation of character lawsuit – whether personal or professional – the plaintiff must prove, at the very least, that the defendant:
- Published, broadcast or otherwise distributed the false statement of fact;
- Was talking about the plaintiff;
- Through the statement, caused material harm to the plaintiff;
- Acted with reckless disregard for the truth or actual malice.
Don’t be discouraged by America’s defendant-friendly defamation laws. Every year, many businesses and professionals win slander and libel lawsuits. Yes, free speech trumps an awful lot, but it doesn’t give anybody the right to spread lies about a person, place, organization or business.
If you’re the target of a highly inflammatory review, a ruined online reputation, or if you’re simply interested in getting content removed from the Internet, get in touch with Kelly / Warner Law.
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Walgreen Co.’s former Chief Financial Officer, Wade Miquelon, filed a libel lawsuit against the pharmacy conglomerate. Miquelon insists that both Walgreen’s CEO and the company’s top shareholder illegally besmirched his character via a pair of Wall Street Journal articles and a handful of emails.
We know we’re behind “breaking” on this case, but since our firm focuses on professional defamation litigation, for blogging purposes, we wanted to take a close look at the lawsuit. Specifically, we want to consider the question: Can Miquelon win?
Professional Defamation Case Study: Walgreen’s CFO v. Walgreen’s
Things Were Already Tense At The Office
According to Miquelon, the seed of this professional defamation saga took root last year. At the time a beleaguered entity, Walgreen was stuck between a tax-inversion inconvenience and activist investors. Then a bad 2013 morphed into a worse 2014, when a $1 billion mistake stained the company’s August financial disclosure.
CFO Says, “See Ya”
In the midst of the turmoil, Walgreen’s CFO – Wade Miquelon – resigned. He cited family and further opportunities as reasons for departure. But the financial books were less-than-ideal, and the search was on for a scapegoat. To some people, it seemed like Miquelon’s leaving provided a convenient, public fall guy for extant Walgreen executives.
Executives’ Disparaging Comments Published In The WSJ
Cue a pair of Wall Street Journal articles wherein Walgreen CEO, Gregory Wasson, and the company’s largest shareholder, Stefano Pessina, are quoted as holding Miquelon “personally responsible” for the corporation’s $1 billion mistake.
Additionally, at least according to Miquelon’s lawsuit, Walgreen executives were also regaling investors with disparaging tales of ex-CFO Miquelon during this same period.
Frustrated by the finger pointing – and worried it might affect future employment opportunities – Miquelon filed a defamation of character lawsuit against Walgreen Co. – specifically Wasson and Pessina.
Miquelon’s Business-Related Defamation of Character Lawsuit Claims: Truth & Financial Disclosures
Miquelon swears he warned Walgreen brass of impending financial disquiet. He says he urged them to “publicly report the truth.” Miquelon also suggests that Wesson and Pessina counselled him to “tamper with the earnings forecast.”
The lawsuit also highlights instances wherein Wasson and Pessina allegedly implicated or insinuated Miquelon as the cause of Walgreen’s “bungled” bottom line. And to bolster his defamation argument, Miquelon included emails, text messages and corporate documents wherein Wasson and Pessina praised his competence.
What Miquelon Must Prove To Win This Professional Defamation Lawsuit
To win a defamation lawsuit in the U.S., plaintiffs must prove at least the following:
- The defendant made a false, unprivileged statement of fact about the plaintiff;
- The statement caused either reputational or material harm to the plaintiff; and
- The defendant acted either negligently or with actual malice.
To wit, in this case, Miquelon must prove:
- He was not responsible for Walgreen’s financial predicament. He’s already started building this argument by including praising messages from Wesson and Pessina in his filing. But in order to win, Miquelon needs more.
- As for proving harm or loss, Miquelon’s lawyer elaborated:
“The unanswered articles have had the inevitable negative impact on Miquelon…Miquelon has gone from being a 49-year-old former CFO of a Fortune 30 company … who had Chief Operating Officer … and CFO opportunities in the marketplace, to being a man with no such options and no recourse other than this lawsuit.”
Can Walgreen Co. Get The Records Sealed To Prevent Proceedings From Affecting Current Business Deals?
When Miquelon’s lawsuit landed, Walgreen attorneys quickly moved to get the proceedings sealed. Unfortunately for the corporation, the judge didn’t grant the request right away, instead opting to delay a decision until November 6th in order to carefully consider the motion. [UPDATE: Walgreen did get the gag order at the beginning of November.]
It’s still anybody’s guess who will win this professional defamation lawsuit. It’s a case that will stand or fall on the strength of lawyers’ arguments. If it gets past the first set of dismissal motions, discovery will undoubtedly play a significant role in this suit.
The case is Miquelon v. Walgreen Co., 14-ch-16825, Cook County, Illinois Circuit Court