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Employee must prove malice for damages in defamation

Employment disputes are often emotionally charged. The dismissed employee can become obsessed with controlling the messages that could potentially echo from the termination of employment. In Mejia v LaSalle College International Vancouver Inc 2014 BCSC 1559 the plaintiff sought damages for defamation. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant deliberately ruined his professional reputation, and injured his ability to make a living as an instructor, by communicating the nature of his dismissal with other individuals.

The plaintiff was hired by the defendant college as a computer design software and photography instructor. He was dismissed for misconduct during one of his workshops. Subsequently, the staff and students were notified of the plaintiff’s dismissal. This information was also shared with a potential employer who contacted the college for a professional reference.

The statements alleged to be defamatory included that the plaintiff was a good instructor but not compatible with the management of the school, a “big word of caution” should be noted because of “other actions” he took within the classroom. He had been terminated for cause and had been protesting at the defendant’s premises for 3 months, 8 hours a day.

The court found that the defendant had a duty to communicate such information to plaintiff potential employer of the plaintiff, that the defendant’s communication was not motivated by malice and stayed relevant to the occasion in which the communication was being made. The action for defamation was dismissed.

Case law update by: Reza Sadeghi-Yekta