A former legal secretary named Valerie Medcalf filed a lawsuit against a partner at her law firm and his wife, claiming that they defamed her.  In her lawsuit, she asserts that the “partner and his wife exchanged emails questioning the legitimacy of the employee’s leave for postpartum depression.”  She also sued for tortious interference with business relations and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Emails Between the Partner and His Wife:

According to ABA Journal, the following are emails sent by the partner’s wife.

  • “Generally true post partum depression appears after a few months and I’d ask why they’re asking for five months so early in the process.”
  • “Is it coincidence that that this gives her the rest of the year off and eligible for disability benefits? Sorry, I hope she ok but it just all seems suspect to me."
  • “Once again I have to say that [Medcalf] doesn’t act like a person who has such severe post partum that she can’t work.”

Judge Paul Engelmayer’s Ruling:

  • Medcalf can’t sue for defamation because the emails were protected by spousal privilege
  • Medcalf can’t sue for defamation because the her emails expressed her opinions.
  • He dismissed Medcalf’s claims of tortious interference with business relations and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

What is Defamation?

There are two main types of defamation: libel and slander. Libel is written defamation whereas slander is spoken defamation.  In order to prove that a person was defamed, they must prove a number of elements: (1) the statement must be defamatory, meaning it adversely affects their reputation, (2) the statement must be concerning plaintiff, meaning people who hear it must know it is about plaintiff, (3) the defamatory statement must be made to a third person, and (4) it must cause damages.  Moreover, slander requires that proof of special damages (economic damages), whereas libel does not.

What is Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress is an intentional tort that requires a showing of “extreme and outrageous” conduct by the defendant.  Additionally, the plaintiff must show that the defendant acted “intentionally or recklessly,” and that the defendants conduct caused plaintiff severe emotional distress.

If you want to learn more about the case, the name of the lawsuit is Medcalf v. Walsh.