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Dimitry K., Esq.
Dimitry K., Esq., Attorney
Category: Legal
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Experience:  Multiple jurisdictions, specialize in business/contract disputes, estate creation and administration.
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Can I sue for defamation of character in the following instance? I

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Can I sue for defamation of character in the following instance?
I was at my local grocery store this evening during which I spent some of my time helping an elderly woman save money with some shopping tips including getting a raincheck. (there is some significance to why I include this in my story) When I reached the checkout, it was 10:50pm EST (the store closes at 11:00pm) and there were three people in front of me waiting in line including the woman I helped who informed me that one of the deals I pointed out to her, wasn't ringing out properly and I should be sure to check when my same items were rang up. I thanked her and asked the woman checking me out if mine rang up with the sale price. Very rudely she stated "We already have someone checking on it!" I told her I only asked because the other woman said there was a problem with it; since she seemed angry that I even asked. I also asked the elderly woman if she had gotten her raincheck on the item that both of us wanted more of and she said she did and thanked me for telling her about being able to get a raincheck. Since we were all waiting for verification of the deal price that rang up wrong; I asked the check out person if I could also get a raincheck for the same item. Again I got this totally rude & almost hateful attitude and she said she didn't have anymore rainchecks. (I thought this was a little strange that she had them 3 minutes ago, but I just said "Oh, ok" and I just let it go) By this time, the other clerk had returned from checking on the price and as I expected, it should have rang up for half of what it did, so mine was adjusted during the checkout, but the elderly woman had already finished checking out, so she got back in line behind me to get the adjustment to her item(s) and she also had some other issue that she needed the check out person to take care of. Due to the waiting time of the price check, my regular order was finally finished ringing out at 10:59pm. I had two other small orders and all was finished by 11:06pm. By this time it was really bothering me why this clerk was treating me so meanly and short, so I asked her, "Why are you being so mean to me? You aren't treating anyone else this way. You had a raincheck for the other woman, but you don't have one for me? I don't understand your attitude towards me." Her response was not only shocking, but hurtful, mean, and she embarrased me in front of other staff and customers. She said " You always come in at the last minute!! Do you care that we have families that we want to get home to!!! Maybe you just don't have a life!!!"
That last one really was bad. I started to tear up and said that I was a customer and deserved to be treated the same as anyone else that was there. I turned around to the elderly woman and just told her to be careful that she didn't get treated that way and then I left as fast as I could because I was really crying by this time. When I got to my car, I put my groceries in it and started to push my carraige back to the front of the store. (something I always do if I am there close to closing time to save the employees from having to get yet another carraige from the parking lot. As I put my carraige away, I saw that they were still at the register, so I went back in to say something. I was actively crying at this point because I was so upset by what she said and that she did it so publicly! Since the woman that publicly humiliated me was still helping another customer, I told the other clerk (who knows me from being in the store over the 15 or so years I've been shopping there) that "she" had no right to say those things to me especially in front of other customers and employees that see me at the store. I told her, that I am disabled myself and had been caring for my Mother recently who had undergone a total mastectomy and between that and my own issues, this is the only time of the day that works for me. I told her it was mean, hateful, and hurtful. Then I left the store crying, passing a few employees near the doorway on the way out and went to my car. When I got in the car all I could think about was how hard I tried to have children but couldn't and how my disability kept me from continuing my career as a Pharmacist and the physical pain I deal with every day and whether my Mom was going to be alright and this woman had no right to say those hateful things to me in front of all those people and cause me to have to feel embarrassed about my situation and especially that I am a customer and should be treated with some degree of respect; not be told publicly "I guess you don't have a life!!"
Anyway, that is what happened and I would like to know if I have grounds to sue for defamation(whether it is the woman herself or the company she works for) even if only for a written apology, which I feel is the least that she should do.

Thank you for your for your question. Please permit me to assist you with your concerns.

To seek a claim for defamation you must prove these 4 factors to be successful:
1. A defamatory (untrue) statement
2. Of or concerning the plaintiff (you)
3. Communicated to third parties AND
4. Injury to reputation, specifically financial injury.

From the facts that you provide I really do not see the first or the fourth factor being fulfilled. The comment that was made about you having or not having a life was not a factual statement, it was opinion. Opinion is not defamatory in most instances, so informing you of her feelings is not defamatory. To put in perspective, if she said that you come home every night, watch tv by yourself, and dream about having a life, then that could be defamatory as it was provided as a comment or action attributed to you. Informing you of her feelings toward you here is instead opinion. As for the fourth factor, while I agree that you can claim or show that you were emotionally injured, there is still no financial element which would negate the claim. All four factors must be shown to be actionable, something that I do not quite see in this situation.

This does not stop you from contacting management or their corporate to demand some sort of a solution and potentially disciplinary action for the employee since you as their customer do deserve politeness at the very least, but this isn't a defamation claim under the law.

Good luck.

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