Job References Protected By “Qualified Privilege”

Susan Miron went to work for the University of New Haven, Connecticut Police Department in 1999. During her probationary period, Miron received critical evaluations from two of her sergeants, David Sweet and Richard Montefusco.
Miron began looking for another job. When a nearby police department interviewed Sweet, he evaluated Miron’s leadership ability as “poor” and indicated that at times she had been “negative and uncaring.” He described her overall police skills as “marginal at best.” Montefusco made similar remarks.

The Department eventually terminated Miron. She then brought suit against Sweet and Montefusco for the references they gave to her other prospective employers. When a trial court rejected her claims, Miron appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Deciding the issue for the first time, the Court held that references to a prospective employer are protected by a “qualified privilege.” The Court explained that a qualified privilege can only be overcome by establishing that the person giving the reference acted “with malice.” The Court went on to define malice as making statements either with the knowledge that they were false or with reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the statements.

The Court found important policy reasons for creating such a qualified privilege: “We specifically have expressed concern about chilling communications between former and future employers. We have been concerned that employers would choose a culture of silence rather than rely on truth as the defense to a defamation claim. It would also encourage a culture of silence not to afford a qualified privilege to employment references that are made in good faith and without improper motive.”

Because the Court found that Sweet’s and Montefusco’s statements were made in good faith, it affirmed the dismissal of Miron’s claims.

Miron v. University of New Haven Police Department, 2007 WL 2701152 (Conn. 2007).

This article appears in the December 2007 issue