The NSW Court of Appeal has overturned a former decision, ordering a former employee to pay her boss $10,000 in damages for defamation.
In the case of Alan Bristow v Tracy Adams the Court of Appeal unanimously agreed that Bristow’s reputation was damaged by a disparaging and unverifiable email sent by Adams to the company’s HR manager, the company’s management team at head office, as well as later when it was spread among other employees.
Adams was initially sued in 2009 over the email which advised Bristow that she was resigning from her role as an accounts manager at the New South Wales Hunter region offices of industrial parts supplier Total Fasteners. “I have been absolutely guttered [sic] by your most recent attempts to bully me into leaving, and have decided to do so of my own accord,” the email read. “I can't understand why Total Fasteners would choose to loose [sic] a competent and reliable employee, to keep a so-called manager of questionable and dishonest character,” she also said. The email also accused Bristow of “lying, laziness and theft” and informed management that she considered her boss “untrustworthy and cunning by nature”.
In his statement to the court, Bristow claimed the email left him feeling “nauseated and depressed” after he realised many of his colleagues had read the comments.
While the defamation suit was initially dismissed last year, District Court Judge Leonard Levy had noted that there was no proof the manager had suffered any actual harm to his reputation, yet agreed the email was disparaging and that the comments were unjustified.
According to the University of Technology Sydney, defamation is primarily a civil action that allows a person whose reputation has been harmed by way of publication of materials, by words, or by any other means, to sue those responsible. The laws of defamation aim to balance between the protection and the promotion of freedom of speech.
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