Teacher’s Assistant, School Principal and School District Protected From Defamation Claims

In Goldberg v. Brooks, the Illinois Appellate Court held that a teacher’s assistant, school principal and school district had immunity from claims of defamation relating to statements they made concerning the plaintiff’s performance as a school bus driver.  The assistant had reported to the school principal that the plaintiff drove her against her will outside the school district before beginning his route. The principal reported that statement and others to the driver’s employer. Those statements included that Plaintiff had attempted or threatened to run over two children crossing in front of his bus and that the Plaintiff was not a suitable person to work with children.

In finding the statements protected and privileged, the Court first found that the Defendants were each entitled to tort immunity. Specifically, the Illinois Tort Immunity Act expressly protects public entities for injuries caused by any action of its employees that is defamatory. It also protects public employees from liability for acts in the scope of employment caused by negligent misrepresentation or the providing of information. The Court also found that the statements of the assistant and principal were protected by a common law absolute privilege since the individual defendants, as public employees, had a duty to report misconduct.

Goldberg demonstrates the difficulty a plaintiff faces in successfully stating a cause of action against public officials for statements made in the course of their official duties.

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