That's What She Said

Office Scuttlebutt Redux

Additional Litigation Value:  $150,000 ($50,000 each for Stanley and Andy; $25,000 each for Kelly and Erin)

Tonight’s episode – Gossip – is a repeat from last season.  My law partner, Matt Rita, thoroughly covered Michael Scott’s shenanigans in the first run, astutely pointing out how Michael’s self-generated rumor mill could give rise to an invasion of privacy claim.  Let’s pile on another potential tort claim -– defamation.

In most states, defamation in the employment context is generally defined as a false statement made by an employer about an employee to a third person that injures the employee’s reputation.  Here, Michael’s “false gossip” – precisely that Andy Bernard is gay, that Kelly Kapoor suffers from an eating disorder, and that Erin Hannon isn’t a good worker – are prime examples of potentially slanderous conduct that might give rise to a defamation suit.

Most jurisdictions, however, carve out a few limited defenses to defamation claims.  Among the most prominent is truth.  In fact, truth is an absolute and complete defense to a defamation claim.  In other words, if the alleged defamatory statement is true, a lawsuit cannot survive, despite the actor’s motive.  Inasmuch as Stanley Hudson admitted his infidelity, coupled with his wife’s inevitable discovery of his frolicking, a defamation claim against either Michael or Sabre would be legally unsustainable. 

On the other hand, let’s assume that Michael wasn’t so fortunate and that Stanley was entirely faithful to his vows.  Couple that with Michael’s falsehoods against Andy, Kelly, and Erin, and both Michael and Sabre may find themselves adding a few more zeros on payday.