A gossip Web site has been hit with an $11 million judgment for libel and slander after posting false accusations that a northern Kentucky teacher who works on the side as a Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader was exposed to two venereal diseases.
The judgment against Dirty World Entertainment Recordings, which runs the site Thedirty.com, came Thursday after the site declined to answer a lawsuit brought by Sarah Jones, a high school teacher whose picture was posted on the site along with the accusation.
U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman added an annual interest rate of 0.25 percent annually to the $1 million dollars in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages. Because the operator of the Arizona-based Web site, Hooman Karamian, who uses the online name "Nik Ritchie," did not respond to the lawsuit, the court assumed the allegations in it to be true.
An e-mail message to Karamian was not immediately returned Thursday.
The posting at the center of the lawsuit, dated Dec. 7, 2009, and headlined "The Dirty Bengals Cheerleader," identifies the woman by her first name and last initial. It says she's a teacher in northern Kentucky, claims her ex-boyfriend cheated on her with more than 50 women, contracted chlamydia and gonorrhea, and likely gave it to her as well.
Underneath the post and photo, 90 people had left comments, some sexual in nature and others supportive of Jones.
Jones' attorney, Eric Deters of Independence, said the lawsuit could have been resolved if the posting had simply been removed.
"If they would have just taken it down, this all would have been over," Deters said. "They just kind of mocked the whole court system."
Deters said he'll continue to pursue the owners of the Web site and work to attach judgments to any assets that can be used to pay off the $11 million.
Jones sued in December as a "Jane Doe," but revealed her identity in an affidavit filed with the court describing the anguish and problems caused by the posting. Jones said she had to face fellow teachers and cheerleaders after the post went online and explain that it wasn't true.
"I had to read the comments about me ’ stating how ugly and fat I was, and how disgusting I was," Jones wrote. "Each time, being extremely devastated and crying after I'd read."
Deters said the rumors posted on the site aren't true, but co-workers asked about them. Deters said the posting has not cost the woman her job nor her cheerleading spot with the "Ben-Gals," but it has been a source of embarrassment.
"She feels vindicated," Deters said. "But she's still extremely distraught about it."
The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based site, solicits photos and information from its "Dirty Army," then sometimes adds commentary to what users send in.
The Web site lists the disclaimer, "Postings may contain erroneous or inaccurate information. All images are credited to their original location. The owner of this site does not ensure the accuracy of any content presented on TheDirty.com."
In an e-mail to The Associated Press in December, Karamian said he hadn't seen the lawsuit and wouldn't comment on its specifics. But, he said, the federal Communications Decency Act protects Web site operators from liability for comments posted by a third party.
It's not the first time Thedirty.com has been sued over comments posted there.
A Texas woman sued the site in May 2009, saying false information about her using drugs and having a venereal disease was posted for two weeks before being removed after her attorney contacted the site.
The site also has been sued by the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity and Tanco, a St. Louis-based tanning company, for trademark infringement when the site posted information about each. Both suits were dropped when the information was removed.