Name, Rank & Serial Number?

Most often that is all you will get when you ask a Human Resources person for a reference. "I'm sorry, but company policy won't allow me to provide any details even if you have a release."

Some years ago, a former employer was sued by a present employer for failing to reveal that the employee had had a history of violence after that employee had been involved in a serious workplace incident. The 'present' employer won the case.

Recently, a prestigious Ivy League school was sued by a former student for defamation, invasion of privacy and breach of contract. The school's argument was "qualified privilege". After graduating in 1989, the individual claimed he was a minority on applications to top medical schools. His claim was that his alma mater had an implicit contract to provide "accurate, but positive, recommendations." The former student, named Nobay, had indicated on his applications that he was a black student and this caught the attention of his former advisor who began a review of his academic record. The advisor alerted the school's Dean who in turn directed the advisor to rescind earlier endorsements sent to medical schools.

Among the other discrepancies noted on his applications were his claims that he was a National Merit Scholar and that a group of lepers had donated their beggings to support his dream of attending medical school. Concerning his race, Nobay admitted that he was born in New York but raised in Kenya by his Kenyan parents. His ancestors were from a Portuguese colony called Goa. He claimed his heritage was a mix of Portuguese, Arabic and black African. He was raised in Los Angeles.

Nobay sued the school in federal court (Ct.) and in April(1988), the court dismissed all claims, citing the school's defense of "Qualified Privilege". This is a defense that has been successfully used in a number of contexts but most often when one employer exchanges background information with another about job applicants.
Qualified privilege is typically sought in cases in which it is necessary to provide true information to third parties or the public. If granted, defendants are only liable if malice can be proven.

James M. Dallas - June, 1998
Reprinted from ASIS Phila Chptr Newsletter

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