Alice accuses Bob of animal abuse. She uses her moderate social media following to harass Bob and get him fired, by having dozens of people call his job and demand to know why they employ an animal abuser.

Bob has not abused any animals, Alice has no evidence, and Bob has proof directly and incontrovertibly contradicting her claims. The trial is a slam-dunk win for Bob. Bob had a well-paying job, Alice is broke, and so could not possibly pay for Bob's lost pay. Can Bob seek remedy from his former employer somehow?

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    What does Bob's employment contract say about termination? If he's an at-will employee, like most employees in the US, it seems unlikely he has any case; he can be fired at any time for any reason or no reason (short of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, etc). Sep 7, 2021 at 4:44
  • But Bob’s employer wouldn’t have fired Bob except for the false accusations. It would be easy to ask the employer as a witness who states “I fired Bob because of these accusations and without these accusations he wouldn’t have been fired.” Bob could have been fired with no reason, but he wasn’t.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 7, 2021 at 20:34
  • Headline is confusing: I read “people acting…” as “people calling the employer”.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 7, 2021 at 20:36
  • I’d say the employer would also have a case against the liars: “ fired Bob because of your lies, and replacing him cost me $20,000”.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 7, 2021 at 20:38
  • @gnasher729 "I’d say the employer would also have a case against the liars". The employer would be unable to prove that his reliance on their falsehood was reasonable, more so when he purportedly failed to inquire of Bob who "has proof directly and incontrovertibly contradicting [Alice's] claims". Sep 8, 2021 at 11:21

2 Answers 2


To make headway in a suit against the employer, Bob has to establish that the employer has a duty to not fire him. In the US, firing could be illegal as discriminatory, but being an alleged animal abuser is not a protected class. There are other forms of wrongful termination such as retaliation for a legal action by the employee (reporting a wrong-doing or filing a workman's comp claim). In California, Connecticut, South Carolina, and Louisiana, political expression is a protected activity but otherwise you can be fires for being red in a blue shop. Montana does not adhere to the at-will employment doctrine, so after the probationary period, you can only be fired for good cause which

means reasonable job-related grounds for dismissal based on a failure to satisfactorily perform job duties, disruption of the employer's operation, or other legitimate business reason. The legal use of a lawful product by an individual off the employer's premises during nonworking hours is not a legitimate business reason, unless the employer acts within the provisions of 39-2-313(3) or (4).

Elsewhere it reduces to a contractual question. As a tenured professor in the state university system of Ohio, there are specific criteria for firing Bob, which do not include being an actual animal abuser. So Bob might prevail in a lawsuit for damages against the university. But as a programmer working for Microsoft, pursuant to para 2 of the employment contract, Bob can be fired at any time for any reason. As a star player for the Seattle Supersonics (cough), there is a specially crafted clause in the contract that only allows termination of the contract before the end of the 5 year term for "egregiously immoral behavior". In that case, Bob would likely prevail in the lawsuit since he did not engage in egregiously immoral behavior, by any reasonable understanding of the expression. Barring such a contract clause, Bob is out of luck in a lawsuit against the employer.

  • I’m not sure the employer is protected in an at will state if they fire Bob for a stated reason which is false: firing him because they have received reports he is an animal abuser is ok, firing him because he is damaging their brand is ok but firing him for being an animal abuser when he isn’t is a breach of contract.
    – Dale M
    Sep 8, 2021 at 0:51

Can victims of defamation get restitution from people who acted on the defamatory statements? Can Bob seek remedy from his former employer somehow?

Bob might have also against the dozens of callers a viable claim of defamation, and it is unlikely that all callers are broke like Alice. The comment by Nate Eldredge is accurate in regard to Bob's employer.

Callers' reliance on Alice's defamatory falsehood does not necessarily release them from liability. Bob could prevail from the standpoint of callers' negligence. See, for instance, MCL 600.2911(7). Since the spread of falsehoods on social media is a well-known risk, callers' deliberate propagation of Alice's falsehood constitutes failure to exercise ordinary care (see definition of negligence in Black's Law Dictionary). In fact, your description reflects that the callers themselves made those statements to the employer. In this case, the recovery of what is known as special damages includes --but is not limited to-- compensation for lost income.

If Bob is a public figure, or sues also for defamation per se, or seeks exemplary & punitive damages, his burden of proof is heavier. He will need to prove callers' actual malice, meaning that they acted with reckless disregard of whether or not Alice's statements were truthful.

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    Depending on what state we're in, there is also the possibility that Bob would have to prove actual malice against all parties, due to animal abuse being considered a matter of public concern. This would likely be more difficult, unless there was some real reason the employer should have known the information was false.
    – bdb484
    Sep 7, 2021 at 11:44
  • Non-commercial statements made with a good faith belief in their truth are protected by the First Amendment, even if not actually true. If this is a matter of public concern, which is very plausible, then an actual malice standard applies. Generally, negligent misrepresentations are only actionable when made in the course of the profession or occupation of the person making them.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 7, 2021 at 23:17
  • @ohwilleke "If this is a matter of public concern, which is very plausible". Counterexample: Sexual harassment is a matter of public concern, yet "[t]he sexual advance of a supervisor toward an employee is seldom a public matter", Barnes v. Costle, 561 F.2d 983, 999 (1977). "negligent misrepresentations are only actionable when made in the course of the profession or occupation of the person making them." In the hundreds of defamation appellate decisions I have read, I have never seen such requirement about the defamer. Sep 8, 2021 at 11:14
  • @IñakiViggers This is because the vast majority of defamation cases have an intent requirement in excess of mere negligence.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 8, 2021 at 17:11

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