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Internet Criticism of Former Employer is Constitutionally Protected Speech

May 29th, 2012, in Summit Bank v. Rogers, (California Courts of Appeal– 1st District, No. A129800), the court found that a criticism of a former employer by a former employee posted on the internet was protected free speech under the constitution and did not give rise to a claim of defamation.

In Summit Bank, Rogers, a former employee of the bank, posted disparaging statements regarding the bank's business practices on the popular website Craigslist.org. When Summit Bank brought a defamation law suit against Rogers, claiming that the speech fell under a section of the Financial Code that made criminal some statements regarding the banking industry, Rogers filed a motion to strike the complaint, claiming it was a violation of his right to free speech, citing the anti-SLAPP statute. The trial court determined that Summit Bank showed that it could succeed on the claim and, thus, denied Rogers' motion.

On appeal, the court ruled that the Financial Code section relied upon by the plaintiff, Summit Bank, was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. Additionally, since the internet is a public forum and the remarks were in regards to a public issue, the speech was certainly protected under the constitution and fell well within the scope of the anti-SLAPP statute. With the Financial Code section deemed unconstitutional, Summit Bank could no longer show an ability to prevail on the claim, and as such, the denial of Rogers' motion to strike the complaint was reversed.

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