COVINGTON, Ky. - A former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader won a defamation lawsuit Thursday against a gossip website in a case that has been watched by First Amendment experts around the country.
Sarah Jones wiped away tears after jurors in federal court in Covington awarded her $338,000 in damages. The jury found posts about her on the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based website thedirty.com in 2009 were substantially false. The jury of eight women and two men also found website operator Nik Richie acted with malice or reckless disregard in posting the submissions he said were anonymous.
One post alleged Jones had sex with every Bengals player, and the other said she probably had two sexually transmitted diseases.
Jones, who had said the posts were false and caused her severe mental anguish, had only brief comments after the verdict.
"I'm grateful the jury heard all the evidence and based their decision on that evidence," she said afterward outside the court.
Richie, who had denied any malice and said he was not required to fact-check anonymous submissions before posting them, had only a brief response.
"I'm not disappointed in the result, I'm just disappointed in the judge," he said.
His attorney, David Gingras, said they will appeal, insisting U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman should never have allowed the case to go to trial.
He had asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, saying Richie's websites and others around the country are protected under the federal Communications Decency Act. Part of that law was intended to provide immunity to website publishers from liability for content that comes from third parties.
Gingras had argued holding Richie responsible for posts created by a third party would have a negative impact on free speech for other people and other websites.