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Defamation in New Jersey

Most prospective employers check references.  This means that they will call previous employers listed on your resume and inquire about your performance as an employee.  Some companies have a policy of only providing dates of employment, salary and other seemingly harmless information.  Others have no such policy in place and will readily comment upon their experiences with a given person.

What can you do if your previous employer is giving you “bad references” and it is hindering your ability to find a new job? 

It is possible that you have a cause of action for defamation (as well as causes of action for “negligent misrepresentation” and “tortious interference with prospective business relation”). See Printing Mart-Morristown v. Sharp Electronics Corp., 116 N.J. 739 (1989).

Defamation is the publication of a false statement that injures the reputation of another.  “Publication” is a fancy legal term that means telling it to someone else.  The statement does not have to be published in a newspaper or magazine to be defaming.  What it must be, though, is false.  It isn’t defamation if it’s true.  So if your old boss tells your prospective new boss that you were often late for work and the prospective new boss decides not to hire you, can you sue your old boss for defamation?  Maybe.  If you were indeed late, then you probably have no case.  But if your old boss is acting purely out of spite and exaggerating your lateness, you may want to pursue your case for defamation.

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