Taylor Swift’s complaint that a DJ grabbed her derriere while a photograph was being taken before a concert has led to a federal lawsuit. The DJ claims he got a bum wrap (pun intended) and that it was actually someone else at the radio station who groped the singer. Now the DJ’s got bad blood with Swift, as well as her parents and management team who complained to his employer, and he’s suing them for tortious interference with his former $150,000 per year employment contract.
Taylor’s legal woes serve as a good reminder to employers that are considering making disparaging comments about a former employee or providing a negative job reference. Before you speak your mind, you should know that most states permit a claim for defamation or tortious interference (depending on the particular factual circumstances of the case) whenever someone makes disparaging remarks that adversely affect another’s employment relationship. Fortunately, however, many states have statutes that immunize employers from suit for giving negative employment references unless the employee can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the remarks were actually false.
Still, even though statutory immunity may eventually allow your company to escape liability, it’s generally not worth the risk to provide a negative employment reference. I don’t know about you, but unless you feel like defending 22 future lawsuits, I would recommend adopting a neutral employment reference policy that limits the information provided to prospective employers to the former employee’s dates of employment, positions held, and rate of compensation at the time of separation.
Sure, sometimes you would love to take a page from Taylor’s song book and dish the dirt on someone who’s done you wrong, but the wiser course of action is to take that bad memory and just shake it off. After all, a former employee’s never, ever, ever getting back together with your company anyway so why you gotta be so mean?