When a disgruntled consumer or a former employee starts spreading rumors with the intent to harm your business, you can take legal civil action to stop them and even collect damages for the financial burden they created from their defamation. However, proving a defamation case can be a tricky business. Here's a hypothetical situation to help you see what you will need to prove before you can get the courts to put a stop to the slanderous information:
You own a small flower shop that depends on local patrons to stay in business. Because your employee kept on showing up late, you had to let her go. She began to spread a rumor on Facebook and among her friends that you order your flowers from toxic farms with horrible labor practices in Ecuador. She says you support terrible working conditions and treat employees unfairly.
While the above situation may not be identical to yours, it can help provide an outline for you to follow in your own slander case.
1. Are the flowers actually from a farm in Ecuador that treats employees badly?
Fresh-cut flowers can come from many sources, including eco-friendly hot houses in the United States. However, other blooms can be sourced internationally, and the farms that use harmful chemicals and underage workers do exist. If you source your flowers from these farms, your disgruntled employee is telling the truth, and therefore you will not be able to fight on the basis of defamation, because true statements, even if they do damage your reputation as a florist, are not prosecuted in civil court.
Also, false statements must be proven false. For example, if your employee only says, "This is the worst place ever to buy flowers," it may hurt your business, but it can't be proven false, because it is just an opinion.
2. Can you prove that her statements actually injured your business?
You might not like that there are rumors being spread about your flower sources, but defamation cases cannot stand on false witness alone. You need to prove that the false statement directly affected your bottom line. In this case, are you selling fewer flowers, especially exotic types? Has anyone written you letters telling you they will no longer support your business? Have people called you or reviewed your website complaining about your business practice? These are essential for proving injury. Without them, you'll just have to endure the wagging tongues until the story dies down.
3. Were the statements published?
A news story, picket sign, book, magazine article, talk show, podcast, or Youtube video can all be examples of publishing libel or slander. If it was mostly spoken defamation, you'll need the testimony of witnesses to verify what was said. Written defamation (libel) is easier to prove and lasts longer. Publishing can be very loosely defined. For example, if your employee just posted a sign on your door saying, "The flowers sold here are killing children in Ecuador", that would count as a type of publishing. Social media forums are also publishing arenas.
An injury lawyer, like one from Bishop Dorfman Kroupa & Bishop PC, can provide more information on this topic.