Defamation Headline Torts

Defamation Claim Against Baltimore Radio Station

Proving $800,000 worth of damage in any lawsuit is not an easy task.  When it is a lawsuit primary based on supposed defamation, that task’s difficulty is multiplied many times over.  In general, it is very tough to prove a defamatory act.

Recently, a radio staffer at one radio station sued another radio station (WNST) for defamation.  The staffer claims that her professionalism was challenged through WNST blogs and its Twitter feed.  The Complaint alleges that WNST made comments about the radio staffer engaging in inappropriate sexual relationships with professional athletes, published remarks about the staffer looking like a stripper, called her trashy, threatened violence, and questioned her qualifications as a journalist.  Further, the Complaint alleges that an employee at WNST told members of the media that the radio staffer lied on her resume.

The $800,000 award requested consists of a request for $500,000 in compensatory damages and $300,000 in punitives.

The radio staffer claims that her reputation as a journalist has been harmed and that her future business prospects and employment opportunities may be threatened by the actions of employees at WNST.  Truth is the most clear defense to a claim of defamation, but it may not be necessary to defend against everything stated in the Complaint.  Saying that someone looks like a stripper and is trashy is technically not defamation.  Those statements are opinionated insults.  However, might they be considered slander per se?  If the radio staffer can prove that the statements tend to injure her in her profession, then they would fall under slander per se.  A very good defense is that being trashy or looking like a stripper has nothing to do with her ability to write.  Perhaps this is where the staffer focuses on the questioning of her qualifications as a journalist.  Again, truth is a solid defense to that claim.

I think the case for defamation falls on the issue of WNST purportedly making statements about the staffer engaging in inappropriate sexual relationships with professional athletes.  If not true, those statements could certainly be found to be defamatory under slander per se, as they would tend to impute unchastity to the staffer (a slander per se category).

Last, let’s look to the staffer herself.  Is she a public figure?  If so, the staffer would have to show that the employees at WNST made such statements with actual malice.  It is a tough burden to prove that members of WNST in fact entertained serious doubts as to truth of publication.

Other than defamation, the Complaint also included counts for false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  False light also requires proof of actual malice, which is going to be very tough for the staffer to prove.