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Defamation Law Discussion Forum

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Postby Atu » Fri Dec 02, 2016 7:20 pm

Good day

Got the following questions

1. How does one distinguish between slander and libel and freedom of speech?

2. When can one sue for slander and libel?

3. Also the line between racist / sexist statements as discrimination is blurred? For instance if i made a comment in the workplace 1. blacks are lazier and less productive than whites or women as less productive and efficent than men. Is this racist or sexist and can one be sued or get in legal trouble and if so does it not conflict with freedom of speech?

Sam

Regards,

Sam
Atu
 
Posts: 45
Joined: Sat Feb 01, 2014 12:56 am

Ref: Question

Postby Kianni » Sat Dec 03, 2016 11:35 pm

Hello,

US Courts have consistently held that libel and slander are not protected by the First Amendment's free speech clause.  Generally speaking libel and slander(known collectively as "defamation" are only when one makes false and defamatory factual statements about an individual or very small and well defined group to third parties.  Expressions of opinion are not considered defamation in US law.

So, for example, let's say you accuse me of a crime(falsely), e.g. that I stole something from you.  You tell tell my friends and neighbors that I did this crime.  I could sue you for harm to my reputation.  If I lost my job as a result of these rumors, or suffered some other great financial loss, I could sue for a lot of money.  If I have no clearly measurable damages, most courts would still allow a suit for nominal damages.

In this example, you seem to be indicating to others that you have some specific information about my past actions(i.e. that I stole something).  People have no easy way to verify your statements and are likely to act on them without trying to discern the truth.  On the other hand, if you simply expressed an opinion about me(e.g. "I would not trust that guy") that is just your opinion and would not be actionable.

Defamation claims may not be brought on behalf of an entire class because pretty much any statement you could make, no matter how outrageous, would be seen as an opinion.  To use your example, to say blacks are lazy and less productive, would clearly be just an opinion.  No reasonable listener would infer from your statement that you had actually tested the productivity of every single person in the world and developed an indisputable measurable correlation based on productivity and race.  Rather, they would infer that you are expressing a general opinion based on perhaps a few examples you have seen in your life.  Such a statement could not normally be part of a claim for defamation.

That said, just because a statement is not defamatory, that does not mean you could not get in trouble at work for such a statement.  Most employers are concerned about discrimination lawsuits.  If you were a manager and made such a statement, it could be used as evidence in court to prove some broader more general claim of discrimination.  Even if you were just an employee with no say over how other employees were treated, a manager who heard such a statement and did nothing could be seen as agreeing with it and could be used as evidence in a discrimination suit.  Private employers are not covered by the first amendment and may fire an at-will employee for just about any reason.  Expression of racist or sexist views could be sufficient reason.

There are certainly arguments to be made that federal laws on workplace harassment can chill speech in violation of the First Amendment.  Prof. Eugene Volokh from the UCLA law school has written at length on this topic.  If you are interested, you may want to take a look at his web site:http://www.law.ucla.edu/volokh/harass

- Mike  
Kianni
 
Posts: 42
Joined: Sat Feb 22, 2014 4:32 pm

Ref: Question

Postby Owyn » Sun Dec 04, 2016 8:18 pm

Good day

Got the following questions

1. How does one distinguish between slander and libel and freedom of speech?

2. When can one sue for slander and libel?

3. Also the line between racist / sexist statements as discrimination is blurred? For instance if i made a comment in the workplace 1. blacks are lazier and less productive than whites or women as less productive and efficent than men. Is this racist or sexist and can one be sued or get in legal trouble and if so does it not conflict with freedom of speech?

Sam

Regards,

Sam
Owyn
 
Posts: 39
Joined: Sat Apr 19, 2014 12:12 pm


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