EntertainHR, HR Management & Compliance

EntertainHR: 3 Lessons to Learn from Depp-Heard Defamation Litigation

There are countless television shows and movies that offer viewers a front-row seat to witness fictional characters engaged in salacious behavior that ultimately lands them in court. In all of these shows, the outcome at trial leaves a winner and a loser.

workplace defamation Depp Heard

In most of these dramas, the actors find themselves in criminal court against their will. This makes sense because most people who have engaged in illegal and/or immoral behavior do not voluntarily initiate legal proceedings in which they will be required to publicly air all of their dirty laundry.

Imagine an individual voluntarily filing a lawsuit knowing that he or she would have to testify about frequent drug binges involving cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana, and opioids while sharing the intimate details of a failed marriage. Also imagine a plaintiff filing such a lawsuit knowing that he or she would also be accused by the defendant of inflicting sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. As most of you know, this is the reality of the defamation lawsuit Johnny Depp filed against his ex-wife Amber Heard. This case definitely seems to prove the maxim that truth is stranger than fiction.

Whether Heard falsely accused Depp of abuse is one of the main issues in dispute. Depp claims Heard was the abuser, while Heard insists she was the one who suffered the abuse. The jury will have to decide what is true and false after considering the testimony and credibility of two professional actors and other evidence.

Takeaways for HR Professionals

Although the extreme allegations raised in this high-profile case do not frequently arise in the workplace, there are some lessons employers and HR professionals can gain from viewing the legal proceedings.

  • If you do not have evidence that something occurred, it is much harder to prove it. When you promptly gather evidence of misconduct, the position you later articulate in any legal proceeding is far more credible. Promptly investigate allegations of workplace rule violations, and preserve the evidence that supports your findings. When you have tangible evidence, it is easier for a judge or jury to determine who is telling the truth. 
  • Do not ignore patterns of bad behavior. When you observe a pattern of poor performance or rule violations from an employee, you need to develop a plan to correct the issue while creating evidence in the event that disciplinary action is later necessary. If you tolerate bad behavior, it can be more difficult to prove the behavior occurred or was harmful to your business. 
  • Take a proactive approach to HR, and provide appropriate training. When you consistently treat your employees fairly and follow HR best practices, you will minimize the risk of litigation and ensure consistency. You cannot expect to keep the skeletons hidden in the closet when you end up being a party to a lawsuit.

Frank Day is an attorney at FordHarrison LLP.