(CN) – A school district won a defamation ruling over its alleged assertion that a company’s higher-education courses are “frivolous” and insufficient to boost teacher salaries, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled.
The school district of Clark County, Nev., allegedly decided that the courses offered by Virtual Education Software Inc. (VESI) would not lead to the higher education and salary enhancement of its teachers.
VESI sued the school district for defamation based on communications between the district and its teachers, which called the company a “consulting agency” and its courses “frivolous.”
VESI also took exception to a letter written by associate superintendent George Ann Rice, in response to VESI’s objection and threat to sue.
“Some of the courses can be passed in three to five hours, and the tests can be passed without reading the material,” Rice wrote.
The trial court ruled for VESI and awarded the company $340,622.
But the state high court reversed the decision, ruling that the communication was privileged, and that the proper claim would have been for business disparagement, which requires a finding of malice.
“We conclude that the absolute privilege afford parties to litigation the same protection from liability that exists for an attorney for defamatory statements made during, or in anticipation of, judicial proceedings,” Justice Hardesty wrote.
Both the defamation claim and the absolute privilege rulings were issues of first impression in the Nevada Supreme Court.