For more information please call  800.727.2766


Tenth Circuit Addresses Defamation During Internal Investigation

Louisa Hargrave worked as a certified nurse assistant at a Senior Living Properties nursing home facility. Hargrave reported her fellow employee George Reynolds after she witnessed him engage in inappropriate conduct. She stated that she had seen Reynolds in the doorway of a resident’s room with “his pants unzipped and his genitals exposed.” Senior Living conducted an investigation and fired Reynolds. The company also reported the incident to the proper authorities. The local government agency conducted its own investigation that confirmed the allegation of abuse. Reynolds sued Hargrave and Senior Living for defamation.

Employers hold a qualified privilege for communications made during an investigation, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals stated. This privilege remains provided the “communications pass only to persons having an interest or duty in the matter to which the communications relate.” To overcome this privilege, Reynolds needed to demonstrate that Hargrave made her statements with actual malice i.e., knowledge of its falsity or reckless disregard for the truth.

The appellate court found that the statements were communicated solely to necessary individuals, and the parties followed the chain of command in reporting such abuse. Both Hargrave and the facility had a duty to report the incidents. Reynolds failed to provide evidence to support a finding that Hargrave or Senior Living made statements with actual malice. Even though Reynolds disputed the allegations, he failed to provide evidence that Hargrave knew her statements to be false. The state agency’s ultimate findings supported the veracity of Hargrave’s statements. The court dismissed his defamation claims.