Past supervisor may be sued for badmouthing former employee.

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A former employee may sue a former supervisor for employment retaliation, held Oregon’s Supreme Court yesterday.

Nicole McLaughlin worked as a medical assistant at Hope Orthopedics.  She applied to graduate business school. A supervising doctor, Dr. Wilson, wrote her a great reference.  Later, the same doctor sexually harassed her, she alleged to the company.  Ms. McLaughlin was accepted into graduate school, and Ms. McLaughlin’s sexual harassment claim was “resolved.”

The supervising doctor then visited to school admissions to provide more information on his prior reference.  Allegedly, he told admissions Ms. McLaughlin “left her past two jobs by getting large amounts of money and a gag order,” and was concerned about her manipulating male faculty members.

Ms. McLaughlin sued for defamation and retaliation under the employment law statutes.  The employment law claim is important because it provides for attorney fees if she wins while defamation claims do not provide for attorney fees. The trial court threw out the employment law claim because Dr. Wilson was not the employer at the time.  Ms. McLaughlin won the defamation case.

Oregon’s Supreme Court held the employment law claim was proper:

  • The law permits suits against a person such as supervisor even though he was not the employer.
  • The law permits claims when the person “otherwise discriminates.”
  • “Other” discrimination “is not strictly limited to acts inside the employment relationship” and certainly extends to retaliation with a connection “to past or future employment.”
  • In this case, the retaliation had a connection with her past employment and relates to Ms. McLaughlin’s “access to future employment through the [MBA] degree she was pursuing.”

So, the court ruled Ms. McLaughlin and her lawyers were right and the trial judge was wrong.

I suppose the next step for the parties is to negotiate attorney fees and call it a day.

Jeff Merrick, Attorney and Mediator

I help people with employment law and other civil claims.

The above is not intended as legal advice. It is for general information purposes only. Reading it or attempting to contact me does not mean I am your attorney. I only represent people after we sign a written contract.

© 2019 by Jeff Merrick

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