995 S.W.2d 569 (1999 Tenn.)
Plaintiff: Sullivan/employee; Defendant: Baptist/employer
PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Employee sued Employer for defamation. Trial court granted
Employer’s motion for summary judgment, and Employee appealed. Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed, and Employer’s appeal to Tennessee Supreme Court was granted.
Employee was neonatal nurse employed by Employer. Employer accused her of wrongfully taking Employer’s property to another hospital, and they fired her. When Employee was interviewing for a new job, she was asked by the prospective employer the reason for her prior employment termination, and she revealed that she had been fired for theft.
Whether Employee’s “compelled” repeating of Baptist’s defamatory reasons for termination satisfies the publication element of a defamation action.
HOLDING: No. An employer should not be held liable for disclosure of this same information when it is self-published by a former employee.
The elements that must be satisfied in defamation action are:
(1) a party published a statement;
(2) with knowledge that the statement is false and defaming to the other;
(3) with reckless disregard for the truth of the statement or with negligence in failing to ascertain the truth of the statement.
ANALYSIS: Did Employer publish a statement? No. Employee self-published the reason she was fired. The court in Sylvis v. Miller, 96 Tenn. 94, 33 S.W. 921 (1896),…