The Fourth Department, modifying Supreme Court, determined the defamation causes of action properly survived summary judgment with respect to the speaker (Cramer) and the defamation causes of action against Cramer’s employers (the village and fire department), based upon vicarious liability, should not have been dismissed. Cramer had made statements to her employer that plaintiff was a child molester and she had tapes to prove it. There was evidence the statements were motivated solely by malice (and therefore not protected by qualified immunity) and were made within the scope of Cramer’s employment:
We conclude that defendants met their initial burden of establishing that any alleged statements are protected by a qualified privilege inasmuch as they were made between members of the organization in connection with plaintiff’s application for membership, and thus “the burden shifted to plaintiff to raise a triable issue of fact whether the statements were motivated solely by malice’ ” … . “If [Cramer’s] statements were made to further the interest protected by the privilege, it matters not that [she] also despised plaintiff. Thus, a triable issue is raised only if a jury could reasonably conclude that malice was the one and only cause for the publication’ ” … . Plaintiff provided the deposition testimony of the assistant fire chief, who testified that Cramer told him to “go tell [plaintiff] for me that if he continues with this application I’m going to pull out tapes that I have that shows he’s a child molester and that it’s going to ruin his life.” Plaintiff also provided the deposition testimony of a woman who was at the Fire Department … and heard Cramer call plaintiff a “child molester”; that same witness heard Cramer call plaintiff a pedophile in 2011. A Fire Department employee testified in his deposition that he heard Cramer say to her husband that she had proof that plaintiff was a “child molester.” In light of that evidence, we therefore conclude that plaintiff raised an issue of fact whether Cramer’s statements were motivated solely by malice and thus are not protected by a qualified privilege.
“An employer may be held vicariously liable for an allegedly slanderous statement made by an employee only if the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment at the time that the statement was made”… . We further conclude that defendants failed to establish their entitlement to judgment as a matter of law that Cramer was not acting within the scope of her employment when she allegedly made the statements to the assistant fire chief and/or at the meeting … . Stevenson v Cramer, 2017 NY Slip Op 05353, 4th Dept 6-30-17