Defamation Claim Fails; Statements to Prospective Employer Were Subject to Qualified Privilege

In Sandia v. Wal-Mart Stores, East LP, 2017 WL 4862427 (2d Cir. Oct. 27, 2017) (Summary Order), the court affirmed the district court’s award of summary judgment to defendant on plaintiff’s claims of racial and national origin discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as its denial of plaintiff’s motion for leave a file a second amended complaint to allege defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

As to plaintiff’s discrimination claims, the court held:

[T]he district court properly granted summary judgment on Sandia’s discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment claims. We affirm for substantially the reasons stated by the district court in its thorough August 18, 2016 decision [Ed: PDF]. Sandia has failed to provide evidence in support of the various elements of his claims, and his general reliance on conclusory allegations and speculation is insufficient to overcome summary judgment.

Next, the court upheld the lower court’s denial of leave to amend his complaint to add claims of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, reasoning that they would have been futile.

As to plaintiff’s defamation claim, the court held:

To support a claim of defamation under New York law, a plaintiff must allege that the defendant published to a third party a defamatory statement of fact that was false, was made with the applicable level of fault, and either was defamatory per se or caused the plaintiff special harm, so long as the statement was not protected by privilege. … Here, Sandia’s speculation that Wal-Mart may have spoken to Sandia’s prospective employer fails to plausibly allege that Wal-Mart made a false statement, unprotected by the qualified privilege generally afforded to communications between a plaintiff’s former and prospective employers.

In addition, plaintiff “failed to state a plausible intentional infliction of emotional distress claim because he failed to allege conduct so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized society.”