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Snoopy Secretary Loses the Case that Her Boss Defamed her in Private Emails to his Wife
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Things didn’t work out in court as a former Thompson Hine secretary had hoped. Valerie Medcalf worked as a legal secretary for George Walsh, but on August 2011 asked for five months of medical leave for postpartum depression. In private emails between himself and his wife, Walsh questioned whether five months was exorbitant, and also made comments on whether she was the most competent of workers. When the secretary gained access to his emails and read them, she confronted the wife and was subsequently terminated; she then sued the firm, but the final ruling has been that communications between spouses are protected by spousal privilege that the comments were opinions, and that the case would therefore be dismissed with prejudice.

The comments in question were reported by The New York Law Journal. One of Ms. Walsh’s responses included, “But 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 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.”

Ms. Walsh said, “All the Monday’s and Friday’s off, and other stuff which has been ongoing. You don’t need this. You’ve been very good to her. You deserve someone you can rely on.”

  
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Mr. Walsh forwarded a photo of Medcalf’s daughter, saying “The first picture of Valerie’s baby. Very cute!!”

Ms. Walsh responded that the girl “is adorable but if [Medcalf] had had a decent shower she would have some nice cotton, clean and non fuzzy blankets to safely sleep [the baby] on. Ugh. It’s good that [Medcalf] seems to have bonded with her though and is exited [sic] enough to share pictures, that’s a good sign.”

Evidently spouses are allowed to gossip like this, and it’s a good thing, because it happens everywhere all the time.

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“Medcalf was fully aware of the allegedly defamatory nature of the Walshes’ email communications when she forwarded them to others,” wrote the judge, also noting that they made no false statement of fact, and that statements of opinion are protected, citing Ollman v. Evans, 471 U.S. 1127 (1985).

He also denied the emails were defamatory:



“Here, the statements made about Medcalf were directed at her character or general qualities, rather than her competence as an assistant, and were not brought to the attention of the general public. They do not constitute defamation per se,” he wrote.

“As to their substance, Evelyn’s comments critiquing Medcalf’s baby’s blankets as unclean and low-quality, or suggesting abusive leave-taking practices by Medcalf, are a far cry from the conduct in cases held non-actionable by the New York courts,” he wrote. “These statements are the sorts of quotidian negative commentary exchanged in countless daily conversations in our free society.”



 

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