There are two sides to every story, as the saying goes. This is not usually true in the real world, but legal disputes are not like the real world. There are two sides in a lawsuit, each telling a different story. A plaintiff alleging sexual harassment will tell a story about misconduct in the workplace. The defendant’s story might include a denial that those events actually happened. At Phillips & Associates, our attorneys’ concern is making certain that our clients’ stories have evidence behind them. Asserting a claim for sexual harassment without enough evidence could result in the dismissal of one’s claims. It could also lead to liability for defamation, although this is a difficult claim to prove. A New York City federal court recently dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by a former hedge fund manager accused of sexual harassment. The lawsuit targeted an online publication, not any of his accusers, but it illustrates how these two areas of law often intersect.
Employment statutes like the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment. A sexual harassment complaint filed in court must include enough factual allegations to support a claim under the NYCHRL or another antidiscrimination law. The plaintiff will have the opportunity to tell their story as the case progresses, and the defendant will be able to present their version of events.
“Defamation” is a broad legal term that covers spoken false statements (slander) and written false statements (libel). Courts in the U.S. set a high bar for anyone alleging defamation. A defamation claim in New York requires proof, among other elements, that the statement in question was false and that it was made without any sort of legal privilege.