Nakamoto v. KawauchiAnnotate this Case
Employees may bring defamation and false light claims against their employer because the Workers’ Compensation Law’s (WCL) bar on claims for injuries incurred in the course of employment does not extend to injuries to a person’s reputation.
Petitioners, employees of the County of Hawaii, brought this action against the County, certain County officials, and a private investigation company hired by the County (collectively, Defendants), alleging defamation. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Defendants, determining (1) Petitioners’ claims against the County were barred by the WCL because the alleged injury to their reputations arose through the course and scope of their employment; (2) Petitioners failed to adduce evidence raising a genuine issue of material fact that the County officials had made false statements about them; and (3) the third-party investigator had no duty towards Petitioners. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the summary judgment for Defendants, holding (1) whether one County official’s alleged defamatory statements were true involved a disputed question of material fact; (2) Petitioners’ defamation and false light claims against the County and the second County official in his official capacity were not barred by the WCL; and (3) licensed private investigators owe a duty of care to the subjects of their investigations.