Can your old boss bad­mouth you? Yes.

Bad ref­er­ences are jus­ti­fi­able, court rules

Regina Leader-Post - - NAVIGATOR - JOSEPH BREAN Na­tional Post jbrean@na­tion­al­ Twit­

An econ­o­mist who acted like an “in­tel­lec­tual snob” and called his co­work­ers at a fore­cast­ing com­pany “stupid” has failed in his ef­forts to sue the On­tario com­pany for defama­tion, af­ter he was given a neg­a­tive ref­er­ence when he ap­plied for a new job.

The de­ci­sion of On­tario Su­pe­rior Court “dis­pels the no­tion that an em­ployer is bound to limit its com­ments to only the pos­i­tive at­tributes of an em­ployee when agree­ing to pro­vide a ref­er­ence,” said Gurlal Kler, who de­fended Stokes Eco­nomic Con­sult­ing against the claim by former em­ployee Adam Papp.

“Be­cause em­ploy­ers are so fear­ful that they’re go­ing to be ex­posed to some defama­tion law­suit, they’ve now nar­rowed the con­text of the ref­er­ence to only con­firm­ing the in­di­vid­ual’s po­si­tion and job du­ties,” Kler said. “That’s not what a ref­er­ence is sup­posed to be... This de­ci­sion reaf­firms that a ref­er­ence check en­joys the pro­tec­tions pro­vided by qual­i­fied priv­i­lege, which al­lows the em­ployer to pro­vide an honest ref­er­ence and not ex­pose it­self to li­a­bil­ity for the ref­er­ence check.”

In 2011 Papp, then in his late 20s, got his first job as an econ­o­mist, pre­par­ing fore­casts about On­tario for Stokes Eco­nomic Con­sult­ing. He had been let go for cost-cut­ting, not cause, and was ap­ply­ing for a new job with the gov­ern­ment of Yukon in 2014 when Ernest Stokes, the com­pany’s founder and pres­i­dent, agreed to be a ref­er­ence for him.

Papp had ap­plied for a job as a so­cio-eco­nomic statis­ti­cian for the gov­ern­ment of Yukon and was the first-ranked can­di­date. The only re­main­ing ob­sta­cle was the ref­er­ence check. That is where things went south.

As Kler de­scribed it, Stokes thought he could men­tion the in­ter­per­sonal prob­lems and still give an over­all pos­i­tive ref­er­ence.

Stokes told Amanda Ho, who worked for Yukon, that Papp was let go be­cause of a “per­for­mance and at­ti­tude is­sue.” He said he was not pleased with Papp’s work, that he “has a chip on his shoul­der” and does not work well in a team.

That killed his prospects for the job. Soon af­ter, Papp sued for $65,000 for wrong­ful dis­missal, $500,000 for defama­tion, plus $200,000 in puni­tive dam­ages, and $30,000 for in­ten­tional in­flic­tion of men­tal suf­fer­ing.

Those claims failed, and the judge on Tues­day only or­dered he be paid a lit­tle more than $17,000 for wrong­ful dis­missal.

Judge Gisele Miller con­cluded that what Stokes told Ho was “sub­stan­tially true,” and though it was defam­a­tory in the sense that it would lower Papp’s rep­u­ta­tion in the mind of a rea­son­able per­son, he was jus­ti­fied in say­ing it.

Coun­sel for Adam Papp did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.


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