Update (February 8, 2016): If a company says that “Jane Doe has left the company and now we have hired someone for her position who will further enhance a culture of legal compliance at the company,” has the company defamed Doe?
The statement says nothing false about Ms. Doe but isn’t there at least a hint, a trace, whiff, inkling, and an insinuation that the company felt that Doe’s conduct fell a little short in terms of “enhancing a culture of legal compliance”?
And what if Jane Doe quit the company and her replacement was hired over a year later? Doesn’t that make the company announcement misleading, at best?
Enter the doctrine of “defamation by implication.”
Sweet vindication for Plaintiff (and Minnesota lawyer, F. Chet Taylor) in the case discussed below in the form of a recent $600,000 jury verdict in his favor on a claim for defamation by implication. The case was before Hennepin County Judge James Moore. Victorious plaintiff’s counsel were Kevin Hofman and Ryan Wahlund. Counsel for defendant Feltl were David Marshall and Leah Janus.
Regular Minnesota Litigator readers know that I am preoccupied by the extremely complex phenomenon of “reputation” among lawyers and here, of course, we have many la(w)yers to ponder. In reviewing documents related to this case, can we draw any inferences at all about Mr. Taylor? About the winning lawyers, Hofman/Wahlund? About the losing lawyers, Marshall/Janus?
Data scientists have a term: Noisy data. Noisy data is meaningless data. The term has often been used as a synonym for corrupt data. However, its meaning has expanded to include any data that cannot be understood and interpreted correctly by machines, such as unstructured text. The fact is that assessing lawyer competence and integrity accurately in our chattering professional world is monumentally challenging. Impugning the reputation of a lawyer unfairly can impose terrible harm and should expose trash-talkers to significant financial risk.