Maryland Federal Court Addresses Parameters of Employee Defamation Claims


The U.S. District Court for Maryland issued an opinion in Doe v. Johns Hopkins Health Syst. Corp. that reviewed the scope of defamation claims based on intra-company communications.

In order to bring a defamation claim under Maryland law, (1) there must be a defamatory statement made to a third person (i.e. publication), (2) the statement must be false, (3) the defendant must be legally at fault in making the statement, and (4) the plaintiff must suffer harm. In this case, the Court rejected the employer’s argument that intra-company statements made in the normal course of business between employees of that company are not publications. The Court noted that Maryland has not adopted such a rule and, in fact, has recognized defamation claims based on intra-company statements.

The Court acknowledged that Maryland law does recognize a qualified privilege for communications arising out of the employer-employee relationship, such as where the information is shared with those who are entitled to receive the information. But this privilege may be lost if the defendant makes the statement with malice – meaning that the defendant knew the statement is false and intended to deceive another person in making the statement.