Sch. of Visual Arts v. Kuprewicz

3 Misc. 3d 278, 771 N.Y.S.2d 804 (Sup. Ct. 2003)

 

RULE:

The mere fact of one's removal from a job carries no imputation of dishonesty or lack of professional capacity. Only when the statement insinuates that the dismissal was for some misconduct can there be defamation. 

FACTS:

Plaintiffs alleged that the employee posted false job listings on an internet website for the director's position and that the employee provided the director's school e-mail address to various pornographic websites, resulting in the receipt of large volumes of unwanted sexually explicit e-mails. Granting the employee's motion in part, the court held that the only viable cause of action was the school's claim for common law trespass to chattels, because the school alleged that the "large volumes" of unsolicited job applications and pornographic e-mails depleted hard disk space and drained processing power of the school's computer system. However, plaintiffs' remaining claims were dismissed.

ISSUE:

Can false job postings advertising an employee's position be reasonably viewed as tending to injure the employee in her profession?

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

Pearlberg maintains that the job postings constitute defamation because they are false statements to the public that SVA was seeking to replace Pearlberg in her position as Director of Human Resources. The court concludes, however, that the simple statement that Pearlberg's position was vacant cannot be reasonably construed as imputing professional unfitness or incompetence to Pearlberg, and thus does not constitute defamation. However, the court does not mean to suggest that Kuprewicz's alleged conduct is acceptable behavior, that plaintiffs are left with no legal remedy, or that Pearlberg may not legitimately be upset over the receipt of sexually explicit materials. The court merely holds that, aside from trespass to chattels, the complained-of conduct does not satisfy the specific elements of the causes of action plaintiffs decided to include in the complaint. It is not the court's function to determine what other torts, if any, may have been committed by Kuprewicz. Rather, that is a course best charted by the party seeking redress.

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