A psychology professor’s scathing internal memorandum about his department’s chairman was protected free speech because he wrote it without malice, a California appeals-court panel ruled unanimously on Monday in a decision published on the Leagle Web site and summarized in the Metropolitan News-Enterprise of Los Angeles.
The case involved a lengthy 2007 memo that Raymond Launier, a professor of psychology for the Santa Barbara Community College District, wrote criticizing Arthur Olguin, who was then the department’s chairman, after Mr. Olguin directed the college bookstore not to order materials Mr. Launier had written. Mr. Olguin had responded by suing Mr. Launier for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and the community-college district for negligence.
Although the memo included personal attacks on Mr. Olguin and accused him of having engaged in lewd behavior, it focused on arguing that Mr. Olguin had trampled Mr. Launier’s academic freedom, and a jury found it to have been written without malice, the appeals judges ruled in upholding a lower court’s decision against Mr. Olguin. Mr. Olguin could not prove damages from harm to his reputation because his colleagues’ testimony indicated they already had a fairly poor opinion of him, the appeals panel held.