On September 20, 2016, the New York Supreme Court in Manhattan dismissed a real estate developer’s defamation suit against a union that had called the developer a “wage thief.” Years earlier, the Department of Labor had cited Lettire Construction Corp. for failing to pay prevailing wages on a federal construction project, requiring the developer to compensate both its workers and those of its subcontractors. In dismissing Lettire’s suit against Laborers’ Local 79, Justice Manuel Mendez explained that federal labor law shields union speech in labor disputes from defamation claims unless the union spoke with actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth. In this case, the court found, the union’s speech rested on truth: “[t]he failure to pay employees the full amount of wages owed,” the court wrote, “is wage theft.” See Lettire v. Laborers’ Local 79, Index No. 153982/2015.
Cohen, Weiss and Simon LLP partner Joseph Vitale litigated the case for Laborers’ Local 79.