Employer's Email Not Libel

October 13, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A long-running legal drama over whether a workplace email accusing a manager of violations of an employer's travel and expense policy constituted libel has reached another milestone, with a jury verdict that it did not.

A National Law Journal story about the verdict from a federal court jury in Massachusetts in the case of Noonan vs. Staples said jurors found the email about Alan Noonan to have been transmitted without actual malice – a prerequisite for legal success in libel matters.

The case ended up back in a federal trial court after the 1 st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year that the email could represent libel – even though it was true – because it singled out Noonan and humiliated him (see Appellate Court Reverses Course in Staples Defamation Case ). Noonan was a manager at the national office supply chain.

The 1st Circuit decision relied on a 1902 Massachusetts law that says truth is a defense against libel unless the plaintiff can show ‘actual malice’ on the part of a defendant in publishing a statement.

Noonan’s lawyer had contended the email’s transmission did represent actual malice because the company used Noonan as a scapegoat to make a point about compliance with its travel and expense policy with other employees.