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Defamation Claim Involving Reasons For Termination Survives Summary Judgment

Published by on May 6, 2011

In a case involving allegations of defamatory reasons being given for an employment termination, the plaintiff doctor’s claims survived the employer’s motion for summary judgment and will proceed to trial.  The case is a cautionary note to employers, as the defamation allegation was that the employer was telling patients false reasons why the doctor no […]

In a case involving allegations of defamatory reasons being given for an employment termination, the plaintiff doctor’s claims survived the employer’s motion for summary judgment and will proceed to trial.  The case is a cautionary note to employers, as the defamation allegation was that the employer was telling patients false reasons why the doctor no longer worked at the center.  More after the break.

Plaintiff worked as a pain management physician at defendant Comprehensive Pain Management Center, Inc. (“CPMC”).  Plaintiff went on a military leave when his employment agreement with CPMC expired, and CPMC held his position open for him during his military service.  Upon his return to work, plaintiff was fired less than one month later when plaintiff was involved in an argument that resulted in plaintiff stating an expletive.  Plaintiff alleged that after his termination, CPMC told patients that he “was fired for ‘ethical reasons,’” “had low integrity,” and “had broken his contract by going on military leave.”  CPMC also allegedly made comments that inferred plaintiff had abandoned his patients.  Plaintiff filed suit against CPMC alleging, among other claims, that CPMC breached his employment agreement by failing to pay him an appropriate bonus, defamed him in connection with his employment, and violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (“USERRA”) for terminating his employment due to his military service. 

CPMC moved for summary judgment as to each cause of action by plaintiff.  The district court’s magistrate judge held that factual issues existed as to the interpretation of term “total receipts generated by the Employee” in the employment agreement, and therefore, summary judgment was not appropriate as to plaintiff’s breach of contract claims.  The court further held that plaintiff had set forth with sufficient specificity his defamation allegations and the court refused to find as a matter of law that CPMC’s alleged statements and abandonment inferences were not defamatory.  Additionally, the court concluded that whether plaintiff’s termination was discriminatory due to his military service was a question of fact for the jury to decide. 

To read the entire Memorandum Opinion, click here.

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