It is a well-known principal of Georgia law that an employer can be held vicariously liable for injuries to another proximately resulting from the acts of an employee committed within the scope of his or her employment pursuant to the doctrine of respondeat superior. O.C.G.A. § 51-2-2. In order for an employer to be held liable for an employee’s actions under respondeat superior, the employee must (1) be in furtherance of the employer’s business, and he or she must (2) be acting within the scope of his employer’s business. Piedmont Hosp. v. Palladino, 276 Ga. 612, 613 (2003).
However, this general principal has an important limitation. While an employer may be held vicariously liable for what an employee does during the course and scope of their employment, an employer generally cannot be held liable for what an employee says. Georgia Courts have consistently held that the doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply in cases when an employee makes a false assertion of fact, communicated to a third-party, which harms or damages another person’s reputation – in other words, makes a slanderous statement. Lepard v. Robb, 201 Ga. App. 41, 42 (1991); Kramer v. Kroger Co., Inc., 243 Ga. App. 883, 886 (2000). This is true even if the employee made the statements “within the scope of his duties and for the benefit of the corporation.” Russell v. Dailey’s, Inc., 58 Ga. App. 641 (1938). In fact, the only way for an employer to be held vicariously liable for an employee’s slanderous statement is if the Plaintiff successfully proves that the employer expressly ordered or directed the employee to say the very words said. Galardi v. Steele-Inman, 266 Ga. App. 515, 518 (2004).
For example, in Kramer, an assistant manager at Kroger told coworkers that the Plaintiff, a former Kroger employee, was a thief and did drugs. 243 Ga. App. at 886 (2000). The Plaintiff brought suit against both the assistant manager personally as well as Kroger. Id. The Court of Appeals of Georgia held that because the Plaintiff failed to offer any evidence indicating that Kroger directed or authorized the assistant manager to make the statements in question, Kroger was entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff’s slander claim. Id.
As discussed herein, Plaintiff’s have an arduous, albeit not impossible, burden in establishing vicarious liability for an employee’s slanderous statements. As long as there is no evidence that an employer ordered or directed an employee to say the exact slanderous statement used, Georgia law mandates the conclusion that the employer cannot be held liable.