Could I Get Sued for Talking?
February 10, 2006 8:05 AM   Subscribe

So I've just walked away from a job I'd held for four years where they cheated me out of my earned commissions and now I'm left wondering what sort of danger I would be exposing myself to if I blogged the company and the people involved? I.e. naming names.

There is a very real chance that my blogging their really poor behaviour would, in fact, come back to bite them on the backside as I was the public face of the company.

The short version is that I put on an event for the company, I pretty much did everything for the event after our marketing manager quit several months ago. The event was a major success and will generate a seven figure revenue boost for the company.

And then my ex-boss decided to not pay me my commissions that I earned by selling sponsorships that amount to a half a percent of that million.

And I am, understandably, pretty pissed off about it. After four years of loyal service (I was the longest employee there by three years.

My question is what kind of trouble could I get in for blogging the real name of the company and the real name of my boss as I would very much like to make the story known but I would not like to get sued.
posted by fenriq to Work & Money (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Two things you need to know.

1.) Truth is an absolute defense.

2.) People can always sue. They might not win, and their case might even get thrown out. That doesn't mean they won't be able to find a lawyer who will file the suit in the first place.
posted by cribcage at 8:09 AM on February 10, 2006

You'll probably have to deal with courts at some point because they'll try to scare you into taking the comments down with their lawyers. Why not just cut to the chase and take them to court for your commission? It sounds like your already willing to spend a little time on this. It'll be much easier to find a lawyer to sue them for money than to defend your freedom to blog about them owing you money.

If you win, you can blog all you want about it.
posted by jaysus chris at 8:17 AM on February 10, 2006

I apologize in advance for this not being specifically about your question, and for assuming that you were employed in California, as your profile suggests. Your former employer, by denying you earned commissions, may have acted in violation of California Labor Code statutes or California Industrial Welfare Commission orders. Rather than blogging about it, I would recommend hiring an attorney that can help you recover your unpaid commissions, or contacting the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, and filing a wage complaint.
posted by ND¢ at 8:17 AM on February 10, 2006

cribcage covers it. $5,000 is a lot of money, but it might not be worth the trouble of a lawsuit. What kind of evidence do you have? Is it solid? Or are you just going to ask readers to believe your side of the story?
posted by mediareport at 8:18 AM on February 10, 2006

Read about SLAPP suits. Often a company will decide it's not worth it to file a frivolous libel lawsuit and risk reaping the whirlwind.
posted by johngoren at 8:20 AM on February 10, 2006

If you are mad enough to Blogg, you are mad enough to go to a legal services office and get representation.
posted by BeerGrin at 8:22 AM on February 10, 2006

Yeah, you should sue first. Why just give up on the money they owe you?
posted by delmoi at 8:26 AM on February 10, 2006

Don't do it. Your next employer will google you, and they will not be interested in someone who airs his grievances on the internets.

When you burn bridges somewhere, you burn them everywhere. Such is the global information age.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 8:29 AM on February 10, 2006

Just so I understand: $1,000,000 * .5% = $5,000. That's the monetary portion of your discontent.

You've outlined what reads like a great success story that might find a nice, warm place in your resume; it'd be doubly awesome to have an untainted relationship with this company for future corroboration of your mad s4lez sk177z. I can imagine the circumstances where that is worth 5K.
posted by Loser at 8:30 AM on February 10, 2006

Part of the reason I haven't named the company yet is because there are some people there that I like and respect.

The president is one of them and said that he would try to get my money for me. And I would like to preserve my excellent relationship with him (he will be an outstanding reference) so I'm reluctant to open the worm can if I can help it.

The other thing that makes this alot thornier is that we did not have this agreement for the commission money in writing, it was a verbal deal (but was based on a written deal from the first event a year ago and why would I bust my ass selling the sponsorships if I wasn't going to make anything from it?).
posted by fenriq at 8:35 AM on February 10, 2006

How is it that the PRESIDENT is not able to get your money for you? Who is holding up the money, and how are they ballsy enough to stand up to him? Or am I confused as to how your company's power structure is laid out?
posted by antifuse at 8:49 AM on February 10, 2006

I suggest suing them, and then blogging the legal proceedings.

Much lower risk, and you should get approximately the same content. Also, you could win cash money.
posted by I Love Tacos at 8:50 AM on February 10, 2006

antifuse, the president still answers to the owner and the owner is the one that screwed me.
posted by fenriq at 8:51 AM on February 10, 2006

Wow... a separate owner and president? That's... weird. Actually I guess it's not THAT weird - I guess the owner is the CEO? All this corporate craziness confuses me.

All those things aside, I think the answer is pretty clear. You can definitely get sued. You can get sued whether or not you do ANYTHING. However, if you want to keep from burning your bridges (with the old reference, as well any new companies) you are wiser keeping your mouth shut on the blog. Also, have you ever signed any NDAs for this company? If so, I would check the wording of those agreements *very* carefully, there's been some sneaky bits in the ones I've signed in the past.
posted by antifuse at 8:57 AM on February 10, 2006

You did a great job, and they screwed you for 5 grand? What a bunch of dopes. Go to a lawyer. The lawyer can write a letter, in lawyer terms, outlining the situation and insisting on payment, and will suggest that your next step is litigation. Saucy instruder's point is a good one; it might not be a good idea to blog it.
posted by theora55 at 9:03 AM on February 10, 2006

Wow... a separate owner and president? That's... weird.

This is not weird at all. And the CEO doesn't have to be the owner either.
posted by spicynuts at 9:10 AM on February 10, 2006

I suggest suing them, and then blogging the legal proceedings.

Note that if you do sue them (or, if they sue you if you do decide to blog), you probably won't be able to blog about the proceedings, especially while they're still...proceeding.

And if they decide to settle with you, be prepared that they will probably require confidentiality from you as part of the settlement. (IANAL.)
posted by CiaoMela at 9:16 AM on February 10, 2006

I'd advise against blogging about it- to what end? Does it get you anything other than some fleeting satisfaction? That shit's out there FOREVER, man. Saucy Intruder's got the spot-on comment here. It's not worth it.

I would suggest following through with the legal complaint, though.
posted by mkultra at 9:36 AM on February 10, 2006

I had a job where the owner of the company actually held the position of "Secretary." It was shady all around.

Anyways, when I quit they tried to withhold my last paycheck. I had very good luck with filing a wage complaint with the Department of Labor. It was in Illinois, not California, but my guess would be that you'd have access to a similar service. You say you didn't have the agreement in writing, but I think they deal with this sort of thing all the time. Of course, it might make it so you're not absolutely guaranteed to get your money, but it shouldn't cost you anything to file, so you've nothing to lose. In my case my employer caved when they got the notice from the Department of Labor -- they knew they were in the wrong, and frankly I think they thought that I wouldn't say anything and that they could get away with it. I didn't have to go to court, I didn't have to see a lawyer -- all I had to do was fill out a 2-sided piece of paper and wait a few weeks.

That was two years ago, and I'm still really angry about it. I understand the desire to tell the world about it -- I've been tossing around a "true life, it happened to me!" sort of essay that I've been debating submitting for publication somewhere. I haven't done it yet, though, partially because I really think I need to just let go (though publication might be cathartic, especially if I got paid for it). If I were you I would maybe make blogging about it your last resort -- after filing with the DOL, if you can, and after seeing a lawyer and maybe filing suit.
posted by penchant at 9:45 AM on February 10, 2006

(P.S.: My situation was way more than the fact that they didn't want to pay me. A lot, lot more, and it was a truly horrible job -- though, unfortunately, nothing criminal where I could press charges. The wage withholding was just the icing on the cake, and wouldn't have been the focus of my tell-all. But still, I totally know where you're coming from...)
posted by penchant at 10:01 AM on February 10, 2006

Would blogging it anonymously be at all possible, or would all of the evidence within the tales you tell point towards your authorship?
posted by MegoSteve at 10:25 AM on February 10, 2006

we did not have this agreement for the commission money in writing, it was a verbal deal

You're screwed, then. Don't blog, don't sue; there's no benefit for you either way.

If the president is able to get you some of that cash, lucky you; otherwise you're just going to have to chalk this up as a learning experience: don't bust your ass for a verbal deal.
posted by ook at 10:39 AM on February 10, 2006

fenriq, in your question you said that the event you put on "will generate a seven figure revenue boost for the company." Has that revenue already come in, or is it projected? If the latter, is it possible that the owner wants to see the money first before cutting commission checks?

When the owner decided not to pay up - did he deny having a deal with you in the first place or did he put you off, saying "later, not now"?
posted by contessa at 10:44 AM on February 10, 2006

I had a job where the owner of the company actually held the position of "Secretary." It was shady all around.

Pedantic tangent: the organization penchant describes may in fact have been shady, but it's not unusual for a senior administrator to hold the title of "corporate secretary" as well. It's a governance role.

To quote the site of a professional association that represents them, "The Corporate Secretary in today's world is a senior corporate officer with wide-ranging responsibilities, who serves as a focal point for communication with the board of directors, senior management and the company's shareholders, and who occupies a key role in the administration of critical corporate matters."
posted by tangerine at 12:54 PM on February 10, 2006

The other thing that makes this alot thornier is that we did not have this agreement for the commission money in writing, it was a verbal deal...
posted by fenriq at 11:35 AM EST on February 10 [!]

You're screwed, then.
posted by ook at 1:39 PM EST on February 10 [!]

You are not necessarily screwed. If you are in California (still assuming), then the California Division of Labor Standards specifically states that you can file a wage claim "based on an oral agreement... within two years from the date the claim arose."
posted by ND¢ at 12:57 PM on February 10, 2006

The company owner claimed that he wanted to be the Secretary and not the President (or even Vice President, who appeared to the public to have a higher seniority) because he wanted people (clients, subcontractors, etc.) to think that he wasn't as high up as he was. He had a sick sort of manipulative way about everything that he did, and he thought this was a way for him to learn things that people wouldn't normally feel comfortable telling "the biggest boss."

God, what a dick. Okay, end of derail for me.
posted by penchant at 1:16 PM on February 10, 2006

Ordinarily I'd side with the fight-and-scream side, but you said you were the public face of the company. Is that still your line of work? Because then I'd have to go along with Saucy Intruder and mkultra and tell you to keep quiet about it, except for maybe the odd hint to your friends in the industry. Getting ripped off $5k sucks but it's not worth ditching a whole line of work for, if you aim to keep pursuing it, anyway.
posted by furiousthought at 1:51 PM on February 10, 2006

You'd have to pay taxes on the 5k, so you're really looking at 3.5k. I would consult a lawyer. The fee should only be a couple hundred dollars at most.

Before you sue your former boss, you should give him a chance to make good. Send a letter demanding the 5k. State that if you do not receive a check for 5k within 7 days of the letter, you will file a claim against your boss. Also, send the letter certified mail, so you can prove your boss received it.

If your boss doesn't pay, then file a claim in small claims court.
posted by malp at 2:23 PM on February 10, 2006

I think my plan for now will be to give them some time to make good on it. If it has to escalate then it has to escalate. But I think the guy in charge now is smart enough to see that just giving me my money would be the cheapest and best solution all around.
posted by fenriq at 2:40 PM on February 10, 2006

As far as it being an oral agreement, with no documentation, you could write the President an email, and if he says something like "oh, I'm still working on it, bla bla bla" or "looks like I'm not going to be able to get it" there's some proof.

In fact, if you deposed the president, he would probably tell the truth. No one is going to perjure themselves over $5k they don't even want (in my opinion)

There's a little something in this country I like to call "freedom of speech."

Unfortunately, there's the whole freedom to sue over other people's speech, as well.
posted by delmoi at 2:44 PM on February 10, 2006

If the president is trying to get your money, give him some time. Time that you can spend looking for a new job, hopefully with a nice reference from him. If he doesn't come through after you're working again, then you can escalate.
posted by 445supermag at 2:56 PM on February 10, 2006

1.) Truth is an absolute defense.

Not in Australia, Canada, or the UK. If you tell the truth maliciously, you can be found liable for slander/libel (seriously.)
posted by solid-one-love at 4:20 PM on February 10, 2006

don't name names. don't even make it easy to guess the name.
posted by amberglow at 5:04 PM on February 10, 2006

1.) Truth is an absolute defense.

Not in Australia,

That's the truth, but not the whole truth. It's different even between different Australian jurisdictions.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:48 PM on February 10, 2006

Fenriq, the oral agreement may be defensible, especially if you can prove that your job has been paid on commission in other situations. I assume that in sales you can probably prove this. You should definitely take them to court.

Wow... a separate owner and president? That's... weird. Actually I guess it's not THAT weird - I guess the owner is the CEO? All this corporate craziness confuses me.

Perhaps you should grab a dictionary and look up the word "Capitalism".

posted by sic at 2:56 AM on February 11, 2006

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