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News story might be basis for employment defamation lawsuit, court says

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  1. Libel and Privacy
A Washington Post article has become caught in the middle of a wrongful termination lawsuit between American University and a…

A Washington Post article has become caught in the middle of a wrongful termination lawsuit between American University and a former employee.

Susan Clampitt, the former executive director of WAMU, a public radio station at American University, was  fired in October 2003 after The Post reported she was mismanaging finances and staff.

Clampitt filed a lawsuit against American University, raising a slew of contract and employment claims as well as defamation.

She argued that the university and its former president, Benjamin Ladner, defamed her because he knew or should have known that the statements in The Post article were false. Additionally, she alleged that by publicly firing her, the university and Ladner harmed her reputation. Clampitt did not sue the The Post for defamation, but alleged the article led to her public termination.

The trial court dismissed Clampitt’s defamation claim. But two weeks ago, the Court of Appeals in D.C. decided to send her case to a jury.

In an unusual interpretation of defamation law, the court held that the newspaper article is sufficient evidence that the university may have defamed her.

“We are satisfied that these allegations raise a jury question about whether the University defamed Clampitt by publicly appearing to adopt the allegations of financial mismanagement in the October 20, 2003 Washington Post article,” Judge Phyllis Thompson wrote.