Objections to Gay Lawyer's Defamation Claim Overruled
A judge has overruled preliminary objections made by personal injury firm Anapol Schwartz and an attorney from Raynes McCarty to a defamation lawsuit filed by an attorney.
The plaintiff, Jeffrey S. Downs, has alleged Raynes McCarty withdrew its job offer to him based on false information it allegedly received from Anapol Schwartz after he had voiced concerns to that firm's leadership over what he believed to be discrimination based on his sexual orientation.
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Marlene F. Lachman overruled the objections September 17.
In court papers, the defendants asked the court to toss Downs' defamation claims because they were based on expressions of opinion, and therefore not actionable. The defendants based their reasoning in part on a section of Baker v. Lafayette College, in which the state Superior Court said "there can be no such thing as a false opinion in a free society."
The defendants also cited Section 566 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which states, "A simple expression of opinion based on disclosed or assumed nondefamatory facts is not itself sufficient for an action of defamation, no matter how unjustified and unreasonable the opinion may be or how derogatory it is."
In March, The Legal reported that the suit, which was brought by Downs, named Anapol Schwartz shareholder Sol Weiss and former Anapol Schwartz shareholder and current Raynes McCarty attorney Mark LeWinter as defendants.
In the complaint, Downs alleges that in November 2010, while he was working as a senior associate at Anapol Schwartz, the firm required all attorneys to join Facebook and to create and personalize their own page with information about their families, interests and hobbies.
Downs alleges in the complaint that he raised privacy concerns to LeWinter, who was still a shareholder at Anapol Schwartz at the time and with whom Downs worked closely, as well as to the firm administrator, saying he was uncomfortable with the Facebook requirement because he is homosexual and he had heard several conversations among partners and associates that "involved a negative tone toward gay males."
In January 2011, Anapol Schwartz held a mandatory meeting, during which the attorney in charge of marketing, Michael Monheit, discussed the Facebook requirement, according to the complaint. During the meeting, the complaint alleges, LeWinter asked what types of information attorneys should post to their Facebook pages, to which Monheit replied, "'Obviously we don't want to post that you are gay [louder voice] bar hopping [lower voice].'"
Shareholder Jim Ronca immediately added "in a flip manner," "'Not that there's anything wrong with that,'" the complaint alleges.