I had worked for a company in Ohio for about four (4) years. Over the years, there were the normal interoffice disagreements but for the most part my employment was uneventful. For my last review, I received good marks and received a raise and bonus.
Then out of the blue, I was asked to meet with HR and was informed that my services were no longer needed, no reason given as to why and was issued letter stating that I was terminated “without cause” and could apply for unemployment benefits.
My previous employer wanted me to sign a “Release and Settlement Agreement” after consulting with my attorney, I made a counter offer which was eventually accepted by my previous employed and myself.
As part of the “Release and Settlement Agreement” my previous employer agreed to issue a written letter of reference and to answer all written and oral reference checks in a “neutral” manner. Also that reference checks will only supply information concerning Employee name, dates of employment, job title, job duties and salary (if such information is requested).
Also included in the “Release and Settlement Agreement” is a clause stating that neither party could communicate any disparaging or derogatory statements, whether in writing or otherwise, concerning the other.
Over the past few months, I have had quite a few interviews and on two occasions, it was between me and another person but unfortunately the other person received the job offer.
After this happened again for the third time, I contacted the potential employer to see where I fell short and was informed that one of the deciding factors had been the reference from my previous employer.
When my previous employer had been contacted for a reference, they stated that I wasn’t fired and I didn’t quit but it was a mutual decision for me to leave the company.
There was no mutual decision, I was called into HR and was told my services were no longer needed and was terminated “without cause”.
Would this be grounds to pursue my previous employed for defamation and breach of the “Release and Settlement Agreement”?
1 Answer from Attorneys
If your previous employer is violating the terms of the Release and Settlement Agreement that it signed, then you may have a cause of action for breach of that agreement.
With regards to a claim for defamation, from what you've said I don't think you have a strong case. You would need to discover what was specifically said by your previous employer and then you would have to prove that the statements were not true. Unfortunately, there is a great latitude in defining what is said as a true statement versus an opinion.
If you wish to discuss this further at no cost to you, feel free to contact me.
Simon W. Johnson
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