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Current Developments in the Commercial Divisions of the
New York State Courts by Schlam Stone & Dolan LLP
Posted: February 12, 2020

Court Reinstates Claim for Tortious Interference with an At-Will Employment Contract

On February 7, 2020, the Fourth Department issued a decision in Conklin v. Laxen, 2020 NY Slip Op. 00958, reinstating a claim for tortious interference with an at-will employment contract, explaining:

We agree with plaintiff that Supreme Court erred in granting the motion with respect to the tortious interference with employment cause of action against Laxen, and we therefore modify the order accordingly. An at-will employee may assert a cause of action alleging tortious interference with employment where he or she can demonstrate that the defendant utilized wrongful means to effect his or her termination. In such cases, the plaintiff is required to show: (1) the existence of a business relationship between the plaintiff and a third party; (2) the defendants’ interference with that business relationship; (3) that the defendants acted with the sole purpose of harming plaintiff or used dishonest, unfair, improper or illegal means that amounted to a crime or an independent tort; and (4) that such acts resulted in the injury to the plaintiff’s relationship with the third party. In order for a claim of tortious interference with an employment relationship to lie, it must be alleged that defendant coemployees acted outside the scope of their authority. Here, we conclude that the complaint sufficiently alleged that Laxen was acting outside the scope of her duties as an employee or agent of the CNYSPCA. Specifically, the complaint alleged, inter alia, that Laxen worked to interfere with plaintiff’s business relationship with the CNYSPCA for the purpose of maliciously injuring plaintiff and insulating herself from repercussions for her own misconduct and veterinary malpractice. The complaint also sufficiently alleged that Laxen made statements regarding plaintiff that amounted to an independent tort, i.e., defamation.

(Internal quotations and citations omitted).

In New York, there are circumstances where someone can be held liable for causing someone else to break their contract with you (tortious interference with contract), and they can even be held liable for causing someone not to enter into a contract with you in the first place (tortious interference with prospective economic advantage). Contact Schlam Stone & Dolan partner John Lundin at jlundin@schlamstone.com if you or a client think someone has interfered with your rights relating to a contract.

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