Yes, depending on the situation. A defamation suit is an attempt to protect your reputation from false and derogatory claims. In the United States, people do have the right to derogate other people as long as the claims are true. People also have the right to state negative opinions about you.
But if someone is making negative, false allegations about you and your reputation has been damaged, you could potentially bring an action for libel (written defamation) or slander (oral defamation).
Consider the example of Saul Benjamin. When bestselling novelist Nicholas Sparks founded a private Christian school in North Carolina, Benjamin was hired as headmaster. He claims that Sparks bullied him into quitting after just a few months of employment.
Beyond the bullying allegations, he also alleges that Sparks told a job recruiter, parents and others that Benjamin was probably mentally ill. He also says that Sparks and the school’s board of directors attempted to “manufacture cause” to terminate him by soliciting letters of grievance from people in the school community.
If Sparks actually did tell people — especially a job recruiter — that Benjamin suffered from a mental illness and assuming that claim is false, Sparks may well have defamed Benjamin.
The solicitation of grievance letters is not so cut-and-dried. The grievances may have been real and, if so, Sparks may not have done anything wrong by soliciting honest complaints. However, if he actually did so, this could be evidence that Sparks was indeed trying to “manufacture cause” to fire Benjamin.
Is turnabout fair play?
Benjamin offered his own explanation for why he was fired. He claims that he and Sparks were constantly quarreling because Sparks and the school’s board are intolerant of LGBTQ individuals and people with non-Christian religious beliefs.
Benjamin says he attempted to increase student diversity and start an LGBTQ club, but Sparks and the board resisted. In his complaint, Benjamin alleged that they discriminated against those who opposed their “religiously driven, bigoted preconceptions.”
Sparks insists that’s not true.
“We have had gay students from the beginning,” he testified. “We now have transgender students; we have gay faculty. We have incredibly strict antibullying policies.”
Assuming it’s untrue that Sparks is a religious bigot, he could potentially have a defamation claim against Benjamin.