Legal Update 9 of 2017

Whether a letter of termination of employment could be held to be defamatory in nature.

CASE

Big Sdn Bhd & Anor v Ang Teck Wang [2017] 1 LNS 133 CA

BRIEF FACTS

  • Big Sdn Bhd [BIG] was a company involved in the food and beverage (“F&B”) industry. The 2nd defendant is the group CEO of BIG.
  • The plaintiff (Ang) commenced employment as the chief executive officer ("CEO") of BIG on February 2013. A formal contract of employment was however never finalized.
  • Sometime in 2014, a dispute arose as to Ang’s claim for reimbursement of a sum of RM600,000.00.
  • This sum was eventually approved and credited into Ang’s bank account.
  • Subsequently it was discovered that Ang was not entitled to this payment as the contractual criteria had not been fulfilled.
  • As a consequence, BIG issued a termination letter dated 24 June 2014 to Ang (the ‘letter’).
  • It was Ang’s case that this termination letter had tarnished his good name and reputation and that he had suffered loss and damage.
  • This action for defamation was then filed.
  • The High Court, finding in favour of Ang, held that the words used in the letter were defamatory in nature and were capable of exposing Ang to hatred, ridicule or contempt in the mind of a reasonable man and would tend to lower Ang in the estimation of right thinking members of society in general.
  • A memo on a projector wherein the letter was displayed was held to be a publication of the defamatory material.
  • Hence, the present appeal by BIG. 

 

DECISION: Appeal Allowed

To succeed in a defamation claim, Ang would need to prove three essential elements, which are-

  • The words complained of are defamatory;
  • The words complained of referring to Ang; and
  • The words complained of were published to a 3rd party.
  • It is agreed that the words complained of referred to Ang and were defamatory of him.
  • Allegations of fraud and dishonesty will certainly lower Ang in the estimation of right thinking members of society.
  • The focus of the Court of Appeal was to determine whether there had been a publication of the letter to a third party.
  • The contents of the letter were shown on a pull-down projector screen in the main meeting room as a memo to the board of BIG to inform them as to why Ang was no longer with them.
  • It was an internal meeting and as such there was no publication of the letter to a third party.
  • The letter was marked as private and confidential and was handed over personally by the letter writer, the 2nd defendant.
  • Given the circumstances, the Court finds in favor of BIG and held that the claim for defamation was dismissed. 

 

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