Ex-Bengals’ Cheerleader Wins $300K-Plus Defamation Suit Against Gossip Web Site
Sadly, our long national nightmare does not appear to be over.
Ex-Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones won round two of a defamation suit against the site The Dirty.com, which her attorneys say defamed her with posts alleging she was promiscuous and had sexually transmitted diseases (hey, that’s my job). She was awarded $338,000 in federal court, but the site’s founder, Nik Richie, says he will appeal.
Jones is the ex-Cincinnati Bengals Cheerleader who in 2012 was convicted of sexual misconduct for her relationship with a 17-year-old student while she was a teacher at Dixie Heights High School in Kentucky. She was sentenced to five years of probation but no jail time, but was forced to resign as a teacher and as a Bengals cheerleader. She and the former student, Cody York, are now engaged.
But her suit against The Dirty is only marginally connected to all that. It’s been going on now for nearly four years — Jones initially sued in 2010 and won an $11 million judgement, only to discover that she had sued the wrong site. Round two occurred in January of this year, but resulted in a hung jury. This was her third attempt, as a judge ruled that the Communications Decency Act, which Richie’s lawyers were claiming should be a legal shield, was not a defense for Internet site comments made by third parties.
Richie’s attorney argued that his client can not be held responsible for the comments as they were not written by him — TheDirty.com posts are generated by readers who are allowed to remain anonymous, but must agree to the website’s Terms of Service, which include not posting false claims.
The site calls these posters “The Dirty Army”, and they’re responsible for most of the content. Some sites, such as Deadspin.com, run blind items from time to time, but few operate like The Dirty — turning most of the writing over to the readers.
“This Court holds by reason of the very name of the site, the manner in which it is managed, and the personal comments of defendant Richie, the defendants have specifically encouraged development of what is offensive about the content of the site,” wrote Judge William Bertelsman in a ruling that sent the case to trial.
The exact nature of the quotes? It was in December of 2009 when The Dirty published a post entitled The Dirty Bengals Cheerleader. Among the author comments were allegations that Jones had slept with all the members of the Cincinnati Bengals, and that she had STDs, which she probably passed to her husband.
You know, the usual stuff.
Richie also added his own comment: “Why are high school teachers freaks in the sack?”
Reaction from David Gingras, lawyer for the TheDirty.com:
“I’m happy. We have spent three and a half years litigating against a federal judge who thinks the Internet is an Atari video game. To have an adverse judgment is never a good thing, but it’s good for us to get out of that court.”
From the Jones camp:
The lead attorney for Jones, Eric Deters, who was in another trial when the verdict was announced, tweeted and posted on Facebook: “Today. A wise jury. A fair judge. A brave woman. Changed America for the better. This is historic. I am honored to be part of it.”
Well, we’ll see. Lawyers are always quick with the victory dance before all the appeals have been made. As for changing America? Probably not — unless there are other cases out there involving cheerleaders, their students, and gossip sites. I don’t see how this applies anywhere else.