Monday, October 12, 2009

Jury Verdict in Noonan v. Staples

Remember Noonan v. Staples? That was the 1st Circuit decision I described as the most dangerous libel decision in decades. In it, the court upended the bedrock principle of libel law that truth is an absolute defense. It said that even a true statement can be subject to a libel lawsuit if it was said with actual malice.

At issue in the case was an e-mail sent by a Staples executive to some 1,500 employees about the termination of Alan Noonan, a Staples sales director. The e-mail said -- truthfully -- that Noonan was terminated after a company investigation determined that he had violated Staples' travel and expense policies.

The 1st Circuit remanded the case to the district court for trial. Reportedly, the trial is now complete and a jury last week rendered its verdict. The jury found no malice on the part of Staples and returned a verdict in the company's favor.

I learned this from National Law Journal reporter Tresa Baldas, who posted a report on the verdict this afternoon.

1 comment:

Callie Bell said...

I applaud the decision made in this case. If the jury had come back and found in favor of Alan Noonan it would have been a huge step back in regards of libel laws. This country's libel statutes were based off of English Common Law,pre-revolution,and it took us up until 1964 for the courts to actually apply first amendment rights to these statutes. If the courts were to have ignored New York Times Inc. v. Sullivan decision it would have agreeably been a dangerous decision leaving libel cases to come in jeopardy of ignoring this important precedent setting case.

The fact that Alan Noonan was a higher ranked employee with Staples makes him a form of public figure within this company's community. The company did not do anything wrong by informing employees of his departure and subsequently using him as an example that they will not tolerate abuse of expense accounts within the company. It is in my opinion that this letter was issued to keep up company morale. When an employee is fired the rumor mill begins to circulate and by addressing the issue is a way for the company to shut down the rumor mill and show that there was just cause, thus if you are compliant with company policy your position will not be affected.

Mr.Noonan needs to realize that he harmed the company and the morale within its community. He forced himself into the spotlight of the company by lying and thus the company acted in a manner that they deemed appropriate to curb the disturbance Mr.Noonan caused. Staples did not print anything that was false about the former employee, which is in accordance to the Actual Malice standards and it would be a step back to the day when seditious libel laws were used to have found in favor of Alan Noonan.