Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Termination letter immunity in Pennsylvania

Just passing along an interesting tidbit that I stumbled upon while researching something else:
Consistent with a policy favoring private resolution of disputes between employers and employees, Pennsylvania law recognizes the absolute privilege of employers to publish defamatory matter in notices of employee termination. Thus, a letter articulating the reasons for an employee's termination which is published only to the employee may not be made the subject of an action in libel, regardless of whether the allegations of cause are true or false and regardless of the actual motive behind the dismissal. The purpose of the absolute privilege is to encourage the employer's communication to the employee of the reasons for discharge by eliminating the risk that the employer will possibly be subject to liability for defamation. Where the privilege is abused by the employer's publication of the defamatory material to unauthorized parties, the employer is no longer immune from liability. 
Miketic v. Baron, 675 A.2d 324, 327-28 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1996) (quoting Yetter v. Ward Trucking Co., 585 A.2d 1022 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1991), alloc. denied, 600 A.2d 539 (Pa. 1991) (add'l citations omitted).

A later decision held that the privilege was not abused/waived where the letter was signed by four people, "all of whom had an interest in the letter." Davis v. Res. for Human Dev., 770 A.2d 353, 358 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2001).

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