LA Times Wins Lawsuit Against Former Freelancer
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.