Accusations that former employee posted obscene material on website were not defamatory

Mark Cody was fired from his job as general sales manager for WPWX-FM in Hammond, Indiana. Soon after his termination, someone posted obscene images on the WPWX website. Cody’s former boss, Taft Harris, wrongfully accused Cody of posting the images. In a meeting of the radio station’s employees, Taft stated, “This has got to be Mark Cody. I know Mark did this. I know he is responsible for this.”

Cody sued Harris and the owner of the radio station alleging various causes of action, including defamation. Cody claimed that Harris’s comments were defamatory per se, because they were disparaging of Cody’s professional reputation, i.e., his ability to manage a sales force.

The district court dismissed Cody’s defamation count, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal. The court held that Harris’s statements were not defamatory per se, because instead of disparaging Cody’s ability as a sales manager, they merely attacked his personal integrity. Because there was no defamation per se, it was necessary for Cody to have pled and proven actual damages for defamation, which he had not done.

Cody v. Harris, — F.3d —, 2005 WL 1274352 (7th Cir., May 31, 2005).