Media Law Case of the Week

A Staples salesman is fired, and Staples sends out an email notifying its employees that said employee was fired for violating company rules regarding expense reimbursements.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston ruled recently that the salesman can sue for libel even though the information is true because of a 1902 Massachusetts state law that allows libel suits for “ill will.”

It is a decision that had Robert J. Ambrogi–executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Association, lawyer and Media Law blogger–issuing a prudent warning:

For the time being, however, be afraid — be very, very afraid — of this precedent. If ill will is all that is needed to turn a truthful statement into libel, then everyone is a potential defendant.

Sadly, last week, the same court refused to rehear the case. According to the Boston Globe, the court also “refused to accept a friend-of-the-court brief filed by 51 news organizations that said the earlier ruling could chill news reporting.”

For details of the case, see the Boston Globe story.

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