Background to Email Libel Case
In January 2005, e-mail attachments which contained defamatory remarks to a lecturer at GALWAY-MAYO Institute of Technology (GMIT) – were circulated by two colleagues using Company e-mail systems.
The content of these e-mail attachments came to the attention of the lecturer who regarded them to be an assault on his reputation, integrity and good name and thus he felt that he had no other alternative but to take a civil case against his colleagues for libel.
Apology Given by Defendants in E-Mail Case
In an apology read in the High Court on 14th May 2010, the defendants:
- Admitted that in an attachment to e-mails circulated by them in January 2005, they published remarks which were defamatory to the lecturer in the way of his office, calling and profession;
- Admitted that the allegations circulated regarding the lecturer were entirely without foundation;
- Accepted their serious error in publishing the defamatory remarks;
- Apologised to the lecturer for the considerable distress, anxiety and upset which the matter had caused him;
- Agreed to pay the lecturer a substantial sum in damages and costs.
Lessons to Learn – Email and Internet Policy
This case is believed to be Ireland’s first civil libel case in relation to e-mail content and sets a precedent regarding civil action for defamation, slander and / or libel by work colleagues.
Although it appears that the lecturer did not take a case against the Company (he took a case against his two colleagues), as companies have vicarious liability for the actions of their workers, and particularly where company I.T. systems are used, there is the potential that an employee may take a case against the Company as well as his / her colleagues if he / she is slandered or libeled by colleagues.
As such, both companies and employees alike must take heed that information circulated in electronic form (be it via e-mail and / or online via a blog, social networking site, etc) which has the potential to damage the reputation or cause distress, anxiety and upset to an employee or colleague may not only have repercussions for the Company / employee(s) in an employment arena, but may also result in civil action being taken against the Company and / or the employee(s) in question and result in high compensation being awarded.
In light of this case, and other previous cases regarding blogging etc. companies should update their internet, email, social media and IT policies, and inform employees of the implications of their actions if inappropriate.
Case: Casey v Head of the School of Business in GMIT, Larry Elwood, and Deirdre Lusby, the Head of the Business Studies Department in GMIT, High Court, 2010