Employer Provided a Negative Employment Reference - Is it Defamation?
In the case of Papp v. Stokes Economic Consulting Inc. and Ernest Stokes, Papp was a Staff Economist for the Stokes, but eventually was laid off due to a work shortage. The company agreed to provide a reference for any upcoming job opportunities, but when Papp learned he was the number-one candidate for a position with the Yukon Government, a negative reference resulted in him not being offered the position. At trial, the court ruled that, while the statements were defamatory, they were not made with malice nor were they reckless. As a result, Mr. Stokes was not liable for damages for defamation.
In general, qualified privilege is the reason references are protected from claims of defamation, provided the reference was not malicious nor untrue.