The California Court of Appeal affirmed dismissal of a former freelancer’s defamation and employment-related claims against the Times. Frederick Theodore Rall III, a political cartoonist and blogger for the paper, brought claims for defamation, wrongful termination, intentional infliction of emotion distress, and retaliation, among others, stemming from the Times’ decision to disassociate itself with Rall and issue a “note to readers,” questioning the accuracy of a blog post in which Rall described an interaction with police in which he claimed he had been handcuffed, thrown up against a wall, and that resulted in his ID being thrown into the gutter.

Following an investigation, the Times determined that it had “serious questions about the accuracy” of Rall’s allegations against the police. The note to readers described Rall’s blog post and its factual inconsistencies and concluded that the Times would no longer publish Rall’s content. In response to questions from readers, the Times also published a piece that provided a more detailed analysis of the matter, including the findings of its investigation, Rall’s contentions and responses, and the LAPD records of the incident.

In response to Rall’s lawsuit, the Times filed an anti-SLAPP (“Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”) motion to strike the complaint, which the trial court granted. The California Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal, holding that the Times had sufficiently established that its report to readers and its decision not to continue to publish Rall’s work were protected activities under the First Amendment and the “fair report privilege” (Civil Code § 47(d)).

Rall illustrates once again the power of an appropriately filed anti-SLAPP motion, which can immediately defeat a lawsuit filed against an employer (especially a media defendant) that is exercising its right to Free Speech in connection with an adverse job action against an employee.

Read the full decision here.

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Photo of Tony Oncidi Tony Oncidi

Anthony J. Oncidi heads the Labor & Employment Law Group in the Los Angeles office.

Tony represents employers and management in all aspects of labor relations and employment law, including litigation and preventive counseling, wage and hour matters, including class actions, wrongful termination, employee discipline, Title VII and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, executive employment contract disputes, sexual harassment training and investigations, workplace violence, drug testing and privacy issues, Sarbanes-Oxley claims and employee raiding and trade secret protection. A substantial portion of Tony’s practice involves the defense of employers in large class actions, employment discrimination, harassment and wrongful termination litigation in state and federal court as well as arbitration proceedings, including FINRA matters.

Photo of Cole Lewis Cole Lewis

Cole Lewis is an associate in the Labor & Employment Department.

Cole graduated from UCLA School of Law, where he worked as a law clerk for Public Counsel of Los Angeles and advocated for benefit recipients in the Department of Public Social Services. He has also previously worked as a summer associate in Proskauer’s Labor & Employment Department.

Prior to law school, Cole received his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism at Indiana University, where he graduated cum laude.