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Medal of Honor Lawsuit Serves Lessons in Law

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on November 30, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An American hero, a recipient of the Medal of Honor, is suing a former employer in a case that spotlights what employers can -- and cannot -- say about ex-employees.

U.S. Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer's lawsuit accuses his former bosses at BAE Systems OASYS in San Antonio of ruining his shot at landing another job, The Wall Street Journal reports.

BAE managers allegedly told a prospective employer that Meyer was mentally unstable and had a drinking problem, the Journal reports.

That's a far cry from the Dakota Meyer who's credited with saving 36 lives during an attack in Afghanistan in 2009, when Meyer was 21. Meyer received the Medal of Honor from President Obama at a White House ceremony in September.

But Meyer's war zone experience also led to disagreements at BAE Systems. After Meyer sent an email objecting to BAE's plans to sell equipment to Pakistan, BAE supervisor Bobby McCreight allegedly began to belittle Meyer, his military service, and even his then-pending Medal of Honor, the lawsuit says.

Meyer is seeking unspecified damages in the workplace retaliation lawsuit filed Monday. He filed a separate suit claiming defamation in June.

Meyer's claims serve as a reminder about some salient points on employment law.

In workplace retaliation cases, employees can sue if their employer took action against them for filing some sort of complaint. Even if the employee's complaint has no merit, an employer can still be liable for retaliatory action such as demotions or reductions in pay.

Here, the link between McCreight's verbal insults and any employer retaliation are still unclear. Will Meyer be trying to convince a court that verbal insults, while not the same as a demotion or pay cut, are still retaliatory acts?

In defamation cases, employees can sue if their boss intentionally hurt their reputation by making untrue statements. Even if an employee is fired, a boss can still be liable for defamation by discussing the circumstances of the firing with a prospective employer.

Here, Meyer seems to have a stronger case. His lawsuit includes an email from his potential employer, saying Meyers was not being hired "due to being mentally unstable," among other reasons given by his BAE bosses.

The best advice for employers: Keep unflattering comments to yourself, and just stick to facts that you can verify.

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