Kentucky Court Holds Staffing Firm Not Liable for Negative Reference

The Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a defamation action brought by a former employee of a staffing firm, based upon the staffing firm’s allegedly negative reference given to another staffing firm.In Wanda Jones vs. Addecco Staffing, Ms. Jones had been employed by Adecco as a temporary executive assistant at Humana, Inc. She left that position in May 2000, and the circumstances of her leaving are disputed.In September 2000, Ms. Jones responded to a newspaper advertisement by Lakeshore Staffing. Lakeshore informed Ms. Jones that she was eligible for various positions, including one at Humana, which was to be filled by Adecco, to whom Lakeshore was providing candidates under an agreement between the two staffing firms.When Lakeshore submitted Jones’ resume to Adecco, Adecco responded, according to Lakeshore, that Jones was not eligible for rehire at Humana through Adecco. Lakeshore’s file noted that Adecco did not give any reason for Jones’ ineligibility.Jones’ version of events was different. She states that Lakeshore told her that Adecco said it would not consider her because Jones had “threatened Adecco by sending a five-page letter and that Steve Davis said he would not have me [Jones] back at Humana on my high horse.” Jones contended that this statement amounted to slander. The Kentucky Appellate Court disagreed. Among its reasons for ruling for Adecco were that the statements allegedly made by Adecco were subject to a qualified privilege, which means that a plaintiff must prove not only that the statements made were false and were defamatory, but that they were maliciously uttered.Quoting from a law professor, the Court stated that “Statements about the competence of an employee made internally and to prospective employers, are the subject of the privilege in many jurisdictions. Kentucky is no exception.” Since there was no evidence that Adecco had made the disputed statements maliciously, there was no basis for a finding of slander.

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Paul Hawkinson is the editor of The Fordyce Letter, a publication for third-party recruiters that's part of ERE Media. He entered the personnel consulting industry in the late 1950's and began publishing for the industry in the 1970's. During his tenure as a practitioner, he personally billed over $5 million in both contingency and retainer assignments. He formed the Kimberly Organization and purchased The Fordyce Letter in 1980.

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