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Were the statements that she made statements of fact rather than opinion statements?
For instance, did she make any demonstrably false statements about the business in the letter?
Yes she made several false statements.
Ok. Then you clearly have a defamation of character type suit against her. When you're dealing with a business rather than an individual though, the concept is really tortious interference with your business, which is essentially the same sort of claim.
As for blackmail, I don't see this rising to that level. It is a bit too public, her threats and demands, to really be considered extortion or blackmail. Again, it comes down to tortious interference and a breach of loyalty, as she was employed when she committed this offense.
If you can show real financial damage from her actions, it may be worth the effort of the suit.
As I mentioned, theft charges are pending against this employee. We are missing $1650 in cash deposits that she took in and never deposited as well as confidential company files with sensitive customer information. We owe her one more paycheck. The detective working on the theft charges says not to pay her. Is that legal?
Also, she kept a $5350 check and invoice from a customer purchase and then proceeded to contact that customer, give them back their check that was made out to us, and sell them again from her new job which started yesterday at a competitor. This is a major national retailer and her district manager was aware what she did. This customer's custom merchandise has already been ordered but they have not taken delivery. I contacted the customer and they confirmed all of this. Do I have any grounds there?
Ok. Well, the theft charges are not part of a civil lawsuit for tortious interference.
These specific amounts that you are talking about aren't the type of damages that I'm talking about. They are more related to embezzlement, which is a different legal claim you can make against her. You can certainly roll it all into one civil claim and you have really good facts against her.
The type of damages that I was referring to specifically, on the tortious interference/business defamation type claim, were lost income damages that you can attribute specifically to the false statements made against you in that letter that you were referring to. So, for instance, if you can point to customers that chose to leave you based on the comments that she made, those could be additional damages beyond what you've mentioned.
Back to this $5350 check issue, that is tortious interference and breach of loyalty. Because the other company manager knew about it, you can add that company as a defendant too.
On withholding her final pay, North Carolina is fairly strict on allowing an employer to act as judge and executioner on issues of owed money. You'd need written permission to withhold her pay for an alleged theft. I think that you'd be subjecting yourself to a Department of Labor complaint to retain her check.
What type/classification/specialization of attorney should I seek?
This is a corporate law situation, so any business law firm with a litigation department (they all will have one) can handle this sort of situation.
If you look for any sort of corporate/business law firm, they can handle this sort of situation. The business law people will essentially do all the research, figure out the claims and damages and then bring in one of the litigation attorneys to do the court action, if necessary. This is because it's easier to teach a litigator the specific law that may apply in any given situation than it is to teach a specialist in a certain area of law how to behave in court.