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Employment Blog

Tortious Interference with Contract/Employment Relationship/Truthfulness of Statements/Defense to Tort Claim

Authored by Dean R. Dietrich
Posted on November 2, 2016
Filed under Employment

A recent ruling from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals extended the notion of “truth as a defense” to a tortious interference with employment claim under Wisconsin law.  This establishes a sound defense to a claim by an employee against other employees that they have tortiously interfered with the employee’s contract for employment with a business.

In this action, a deputy director of the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation brought suit against other individuals within the Marshfield Clinic System alleging these individuals made false and improper statements to the Board of Directors of the Clinic which resulted in the employee being terminated from employment.  The Court of Appeals found the statements made by the other employees were truthful and therefore were considered privileged statements that could not be used to support a claim by this deputy director for tortious interference with his employment by Marshfield Clinic.  The defense that statements were substantially true would normally be used as a defense in a libel/slander claim, but under Wisconsin law, there is an exception to a claim of tortious interference with contract (employment) if the claim is based upon statements that were true or substantially true.  This exception prevents an individual from pursuing legal action alleging tortious interference if it is shown that the statements being relied upon were in fact true or substantially true. 

No Wisconsin court has ruled on this legal argument; however, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in its decision that it believes that the Wisconsin Supreme Court would apply the same exception if the matter were presented to the Court in a state proceeding.  This ruling gives protection to employees against claims by others in the workplace provided the employees are engaging in truthful conduct and relying upon truthful information in the statements being made that affect the employment rights of another person.