Cabinet Officials Have Absolute Privilege in Defamation Suits

The Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously ruled today that cabinet-level state officials have absolute immunity from defamation claims for speech that arises out of the performance of their official duties. The ruling came in the case of Zoyle Jones, a former employee of the Tennessee Department of Correction, who sued the state for defamation after the former commissioner of the department spoke to the media about Jones’s demotion. Writing for the court, Justice Sharon G. Lee explained that a rule of absolute immunity furthers two important policy considerations: ensuring that cabinet-level state officials can fulfill their public duties and inform the public about the functioning of government free from the harassment of lawsuits.