In a decision to be officially released later this month, the Connecticut Appellate Court has ruled that statements made by a worker during an affirmative action proceeding are subject to absolute immunity from defamation claims.
The decision in Morgan v. Bubar (download here), resolves, at least for now, the unanswered question of what protections should attach to a less-than-traditional investigation and proceeding, such a complaint to a state affirmative action officer. The court held that the proceeding is "quasi-judicial", which triggers the protection of absolute immunity.
The court’s reasoning is consistent with other types of investigations where there is an interest in having facts told to the investigator without fear of retribution. "We conclude … that the policy of encouraging candid disclosure of discriminatory occurrences outweighs the risk that statements made in the context of an affirmative action investigation may be false or malicious."
For private employers, the decision will have less of an impact because the use of affirmative action officers is not nearly as common as various human resources professionals. Nevertheless, it provides the employer (and the employees involved in the investigation) with more clarification that statements made by employees in the context of investigations are likely to be protected by the courts..