Can You Sue for Alleged Defamation Occurred During Internal Corporate Communications ?

In Gibson v. Philip Morris, Inc., 292 Ill. App. 3d 267, 685 N.E.2d 638, 226 Ill. Dec. 383 (1997), the plaintiff brought a defamation action against his former corporate employer and its agents based on statements made by other employees relating to his discharge. There, the plaintiff was fired for, among other things, selling company property based on three employees' statements that they saw company incentive items offered for sale at a yard sale at the plaintiffs home. The plaintiffs supervisor requested that the three employees make written statements, which he included in a written report to the human resources director about his investigation of the plaintiffs infractions. The court ruled for the plaintiff on his defamation claim and awarded him punitive damages. The corporate defendant in Gibson asserted that there was no publication of the statements because communication of the interoffice reports was only the corporation talking to itself. Gibson, 292 Ill. App. 3d at 274. In rejecting the defendant's argument, the Gibson court discussed two cases (Harrel v. Dillards Department Stores, Inc., 268 Ill. App. 3d 537, 644 N.E.2d 448, 205 Ill. Dec. 892 (1994), Beauvoir v. Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, 137 Ill. App. 3d 294, 484 N.E.2d 841, 92 Ill. Dec. 110 (1985)) that involved internal corporate communications but concluded there was "no statement of law in Illinois that corporate internal communications are not publications." Gibson. 292 Ill. App. 3d at 275. The court then considered the question of publication in conjunction with the issue of privilege and ultimately found that there was publication of the statements at issue. Gibson, 292 Ill. App. 3d at 276.