Los Angeles, CA asked in Employment Discrimination, Employment Law and Libel & Slander for California

Q: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress and Defamation claims in Employment Lawsuit

Is it true that IIED and Defamation claims should not be included in the same complaint? If yes, which one is more relevant in a case when an Employer sends an email to all employees falsely accusing the plaintiff of a crime he has not committed and suspends him pending an investigation? And after the investigation clears the plaintiff of committing the crime, the employer terminates him.

2 Lawyer Answers
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Employment Law Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: In California, it is generally acceptable to include both Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) and Defamation claims in the same complaint, as they are separate causes of action that can arise from the same set of facts. However, the relevance and strength of each claim depend on the specific circumstances of the case.

Given the scenario you described, where an employer sends an email to all employees falsely accusing the plaintiff of a crime, suspends him pending an investigation, and then terminates him even after the investigation clears the plaintiff, both IIED and Defamation claims could be relevant.

1. Defamation: This claim is particularly relevant because the employer allegedly sent an email to all employees falsely accusing the plaintiff of a crime. If the accusation is untrue and harms the plaintiff's reputation, it may constitute defamation. The plaintiff would need to prove that the statement was false, unprivileged, and caused damage to their reputation.

2. IIED: To prove IIED, the plaintiff must show that the employer's conduct was extreme and outrageous, intended to cause emotional distress (or reckless disregard for the probability of causing emotional distress), and that the plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress as a result. In this case, falsely accusing the plaintiff of a crime, suspending him, and then terminating him even after being cleared could potentially qualify as extreme and outrageous conduct.

Between the two claims, defamation may be more directly relevant to the facts presented, as it specifically addresses the false accusation of a crime communicated to other employees. However, IIED could also be a strong claim if the plaintiff can demonstrate that the employer's actions were extreme, outrageous, and caused severe emotional distress.

It is essential to consult with an experienced employment law attorney to evaluate the specific facts of the case and determine the most appropriate claims to pursue based on the available evidence and legal strategy.

Neil Pedersen
Neil Pedersen
  • Employment Law Lawyer
  • Westminster, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: No, it is not true that those claims need to be filed separately. In fact it may well be that filing them separately would create serious issues. If you have meritorious claims for those causes of action, you make them in the same complaint.

Keep in mind that simply because the employer investigation has cleared the employee of the accusation of committing a crime, does not mean it is wrongful termination to terminate that employee. In California you are considered to be employed on an at will basis unless you have an agreement to the contrary about that status with the employer. That means you can be terminated for any reason or even no reason at all. Terminating you after clearing you of the allegation is not unlawful unless you can prove the termination was motivated by you being a member of a protected class of people or because you engaged in some kind of legally protected conduct.

Good luck to you.

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