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An Employee May be Able to Sue a Former Employer for a Bad Reference

A former employer who gives a former employee a negative job reference in retaliation for the employee's complaint of discrimination may be liable under the human rights law.

In Jute v. Hamilton Sunstrand Corp., 420 F .3d 166, 178-79 (2d Cir. 2005), the plaintiff was on the verge of obtaining a new job. Before she was offered the job, however, her former employer told the new job that he could not give a reference because Jute "had a lawsuit pending," even though the plaintiff did not actually have a lawsuit pending. The Second Circuit, the federal appeals court in New York, held that this false statement could "negatively affect Jute's chances of securing employment" and denied the defendant's motion to dismiss the case.

Other courts since that time have also confirmed that individuals may assert a claim against former employers who, in an effort to retaliate against the employee's claim, give a negative reference. For example, in Brescia V. Sia, 2008 WL 1944010, at *4 n.3 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 30, 2008), the court rejected the defendant's effort to dismiss the plaintiff's case under similar circumstances, finding that even where the negative reference is "factually accurate," an individual may have a claim.

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