Looks like another high-profile online defamation lawsuit is in the works.
Sarah Jones seemed to have it all. As a popular, professional cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals, she was cheered. As a high school teacher, she was taught to have class. In her relationship with her longtime, high school sweetheart, she was happy. Then, her bed of roses collapsed into a mess of thorns when an anonymous post on the gossip site TheDirty.com alleged certain sexual indiscretions on her part.
“I literally broke down,” Ms. Jones complained to ABC News. She disappointingly claimed to have worked her butt off to ensure that she maintained a “reputable reputation,” only to have it destroyed by a single act of online defamation.
Online Defamation Lawsuit Background
Ms. Jones’ nightmare began in October 2009 when an unnamed poster sent the Dirty.com’s founder, Nik Richie, a message and photo implicating Ms. Jones in certain extracurricular activities. Specifically, the message suggested that Ms. Jones had been spending time with Shayne Graham, a placekicker for the Bengals at that time. As Mr. Graham’s reputation was that of a man-about-town and all-around scamp, the suggestion was that Ms. Jones was perhaps being untrue to her beau.
The message went on further to imply that she had been engaged in bedroom activities with the rest of the Bengals team as well as Graham. It also commented on the irony of her role as a teacher while acting less than “classy.” The poster then disparaged Graham’s taste in bedroom companions, alluding to the poster’s opinion that Ms. Jones left a lot to be desired, physically.
Take Down Request Efforts Denied
Jones soon contacted Mr. Richie and appealed to him to remove the offending post. She claimed that the comments about her were untrue and that it would ruin her reputation to have the pictures publicly displayed on the website.
Two months later the masked poster struck again with another picture of Ms. Jones and some very unflattering comments about her ex-boyfriend. The mysterious messenger implied that her ex had been quite the scalawag and, in his devilish ways, had contracted a couple of unfriendly social diseases, namely Gonorrhea and Chlamydia. Ouch! He then suggested that the Devil may also be in Ms. Jones.
According to the rogue poster, Ms. Jones’ ex-beau claimed he and Ms. Jones had soiled the areas of the gym, the football field and her high school classroom with their backfields in motion. Mr. Richie commented himself, posing a question, inquiring why it appears that all high school teachers are “freaks in the sack.”
To no great surprise, the disparaging post initiated a squall of chatter and chuckles that spurred on the Bengals’ tigress to go into a defensive position. With great dismay, she stated that it was extremely difficult to maintain a sense of decorum while standing in front of her class denouncing the rumors. Denying that she was a “slut” with a pair of STDs, she explained, “is the hardest thing you will ever have to do.”
The End Result: An Online Defamation Lawsuit
Despite her 20 to 30 email pleas for mercy, Richie refused to remove the offending posts. As a result, Ms. Jones had to quit her job because it was getting in the way of her dignity and making her uncomfortable. She also sued and has had a June 4, 2012 trial date set. The suit names the website and its owner, Hooman Karamian aka Nik Richie, as defendants, according to CBS News.
The trial judge, Judge Bertelsman, denied Richie’s request to dismiss the case. The judge agreed with the contention that the site’s name, content, and manner in which it is managed, in addition to Richie’s comments, appear to support an offensive environment.
Richie subsequently emailed Jones insisting that his goal is to provide a forum for free communication, not to hurt people. There is no indication that Ms. Jones, the current captain of the Bengals’ cheerleader squad, empathizes with Mr. Richie’s position.
Mr. Richie then offered some advice for Ms. Jones, the same advice he claimed he would offer his child’s mother if she were to end up on Mr. Richie’s site. He suggested that she view it as a “learning experience” because in the long run “that’s what it is.” There is no indication that Mr. Richie’s advice provided any comfort to Ms. Jones.
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