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Court refuses to dismiss NYC nanny’s allegations that her former employers defamed her, tortiously interfered with her contract, and intentionally inflicted emotional distress by posting about her in two New York City community Facebook groups

New York

,

USA

Court Denies Employer’s Motion to Dismiss Former Nanny’s Claims of Defamation, Tortious Interference with Contract, and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress In Moraes v. White, 21 Civ. 4743 (PAE) (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 22, 2021), the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed the defendant’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim for defamation, tortious interference of contract, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiff’s allegations, aside from providing a window into the life of some Chelsea-dwelling New Yorkers, sheds light on how New York Courts treat interpersonal disputes between domestic employers and employees.In Moraes, the plaintiff, a Brazilian immigrant, moved to New York City to pursue her education. She began working as a nanny for the defendants’ son, and the plaintiff and defendants “developed a relationship of cordiality and confidence” (at 1).About eight months after beginning her employment, the plaintiff was the victim of a violent attack unrelated to her employment. She experienced extreme psychological distress, and after being hospitalized for three days, was diagnosed with PTSD. While working for the defendants at their beach house on Long Island, the plaintiff confided in the defendant’s wife that she had been struggling in the aftermath of the attack. The wife immediately terminated the plaintiff’s employment and called for a car to take the plaintiff back to New York City (at 1).The plaintiff wrote a letter to the defendants in an effort to seek closure, but she did not receive a reply. A few days after her employment was terminated, she was in a park with friends when the son walked by with his new nanny. The son ran over to the plaintiff to say hello (at 2).That evening the defendant’s husband called the plaintiff and told her that it was “inappropriate for you to be in our neighborhood” (at 3).Five days later, a man who identified himself as a messenger of the defendants banged on the plaintiff’s apartment door for 20 minutes until she opened the door. The man delivered a threatening message along with a cease and desist letter from the defendants which ordered the plaintiff to cease contact or communication with the defendants and their son. The defendants also filed a criminal complaint against the plaintiff for stalking and harassment (at 5).Several weeks later, the plaintiff was hired as a nanny by another family in New York City. The employment relationship went well (at 6).A few months later, the defendant wife posted a message on two New York City community Facebook groups in which she named the plaintiff and stated that (at 6):Although we cared for Barb, we were forced to terminate her employment due to behavior that caused us concern for the safety of our son. But it didn’t stop there. Her behavior following her termination left us no choice but to hire an attorney and file a criminal report for harassment and stalking our son. We were told that she would not seek employment in the area. Based on that understanding we did not seek a restraining order against her. Unfortunately, we have learned that not only is she working in the area she is frequenting parks where she knows our son goes when he is likely to be there. Her presence in the neighborhood alarms us given her past behavior toward our family.A few weeks after the Facebook posts, in January 2021, a man and a woman snuck into the plaintiff’s apartment building on behalf of the defendants and banged loudly on her door for almost two hours. When the plaintiff left the apartment they followed her to the subway. That evening the plaintiff discovered a letter taped to her door from the defendant’s attorney accusing the plaintiff of visiting the park when the son regularly plays and accusing her of using her current employer’s child to stalk the son. The letter stated (at 8):There are many parks in New York City; please choose a different one.The plaintiff stated that she had not had any contact with the son since August 20, 2020, and had not been fired for “problematic and disruptive behavior.” (at 9)For no reason other than fear of becoming drawn into the defendant’s harassment campaign, the plaintiff’s employment was terminated by her new employer. The plaintiff feared for her safety and left New York (at 10).The defendants brought a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims. Defamation The Court noted that the Facebook posts made by the defendant wife were not solely opinions such that they are non-actionable. The Court noted that the clear implication of her posts was that she knew undisclosed facts supporting her contention that the plaintiff was a stalker and harasser to a degree worthy of arrest and prosecution. In addition, the fact that she made these posts six months after the plaintiff stopped working for her conveyed that the purportedly obsessive former nanny posed a continuing if not escalating danger (at 22).The Court rejected the argument that the forum in which the posts were made – the internet – made the statements protected opinion (at 22).The Court also rejected the defendants’ argument that the Facebook posts were protected by qualified privilege because they were made in two Facebook groups in which parents seek advice and opinions from other local parents who rely on members’ honesty (at 26). First, there is no indication, based on the posts themselves, that any other person in the group shared the defendants’ interest in the plaintiff or her behavior. All indications are that the defendant wife wrote the posts on her initiative, unprompted by an inquiry or comment by another member of the group. Second, the Facebook groups to which the defendant wife posted were neither “extremely limited” nor “clearly defined” (at 27). Tortious Interference of Business Relations The Court refused to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim for tortious interference with business relations. The Court held that the elements of the claim had been pled (at 31). Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress The Court also refused to dismiss the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress and noted that the elements of the claim include (at 34):extreme and outrageous conduct;intent to cause, or reckless disregard of a substantial probability of causing, severe emotional distress;a causal connection between the conduct and the injury; andsevere emotional distress.The Court held that these elements had been pled. Despite the fact that liability for the tort has been found only where “the conduct has been so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community”, the plaintiff plausibly alleged extreme and outrageous conduct on the part of the defendants (at 35 and 37).The Court refused to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim (at 38).

April 14, 2022
Moraes v. White, 21 Civ. 4743 (PAE) (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 22, 2021)
Federal Courts (2nd Circuit)