• The Workplace
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  • Higher Ed
  • K-12

Avoiding Defamation Claims Arising Out of Harassment Investigations

Ellen Babbitt, JD
April 2021

Why Read This

Most K-12 schools, colleges, and universities are aware that they must promptly and thoroughly investigate all charges of unlawful harassment in the workplace. Many institutions are less aware, however, that a harassment allegation — a sensitive and potentially damaging statement about a co-employee’s behavior — brings with it a serious risk of related defamation claims.

This report shows institutions how to handle investigations with utmost care. Failing to treat investigations this way may result in your institution defending a defamation claim from an employee who believes their reputation has been injured by information disclosed in the course of an investigation.

Key Takeaways

  • It’s important to make investigators, supervisors, and other employees aware that careless or intentionally malicious statements about their co-workers can lead to liability for them personally as well as for your institution.
  • Investigations conducted carelessly may lend themselves to claims of “excessive publication” or “malice.”
  • Public policy, as well as developing law, strongly favors protecting communications made during the course of a legitimate workplace investigation; if your institution takes positive steps to minimize publication and eliminate the potential for malice or favoritism, it will stand an excellent chance of protecting all legitimate communications from attack on the grounds of defamation.

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