The District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled that The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (the “AIPAC”) did not defame its former policy director by condemning his behavior amid a federal investigation. The AIPAC suspended its former policy director and another employee in 2005 after finding out that they were entangled in an FBI investigation involving a Pentagon official.
At issue were comments that an AIPAC spokesman gave to the New York Times. In 2005, an AIPAC spokesman was quoted as saying that the former policy director was fired because he failed to meet “the standards that AIPAC expects from its employees.” A 2008 article repeated that statement, and added that an AIPAC spokesman had more recently said that the organization “still held that view of [the former policy director’s] behavior.”
The Court of Appeals agreed that the AIPAC had no written standards for employee conduct at the time the former policy director was fired. However, the AIPAC claimed that there were unwritten standards presuming employees would obey the law, and also follow the advice of AIPAC’s lawyers and correspond with the organization with “total candor.” The Court of Appeals held that the “standards” the AIPAC spokesman referred to in both instances were not “well-defined” and were open to numerous interpretations. Established precedent, therefore, mandated that the defamation claim could not succeed where there are multiple interpretations. In sum, the AIPAC, in the view of the Court of Appeals, had not slandered its former policy director in either article.
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