Principal Sues Student for Cyber Defamation

A school principal in Pennsylvania is suing four former high school students for defamation of character after he says they posted demeaning comments about him online.

Although school teachers and principals are used to being the target of student's jokes, principal Eric Trosch says that a MySpace profile that was posted about him went way beyond just a joke.

On his personal MySpace posting, student Justin Layshock describes himself as a 19-year-old college student who lives for humor.

But Trosch, his former principal, now at Hermitage Middle School, wasn't laughing two years ago when Layshock posted the mock profile of him online.

In documents obtained by Smokinggun.com, the profile describes Trosch as "a big steroid freak" and as "too drunk to remember" his birthday. Under movies, the profile listed that Trosch liked "chick flicks and porno movies." The posting also said that Trosch kept beer at school and had sex with students.

The principal is now suing for defamation of his character.

"I think this principal has a pretty strong case," said Lisa Bloom, an ABC News legal contributor and a Court TV News anchor. "This is the equivalent of putting a giant billboard over the school and saying the principal is a child molester, the principal is a drunk, the principal is a drug addict. … That's clearly defamation under the law if it's not true."

Pittsburgh lawyer Todd Hollis said he, too, was the victim of online lies -- in his case, posted anonymously.

Last year, his name appeared on a Web site called Dontdatehimgirl.com along with some ugly accusations that he was promiscuous, had a sexually transmitted disease and worse.

"It took my breath away," Hollis said. "I was embarrassed. I felt like a joke."

Hollis is now suing the Web site's owner and one of the women he believes posted the comments about him online.

But for Hollis and the Pennsylvania principal, getting compensation could be an uphill battle.

"The students," Bloom said, "may say, 'Obviously this is a joke. It's satire and it's protected, and it's not defamation. It's not a false statement of fact.'"

Trosch said the postings humiliated him and hurt his earning potential. He's seeking unspecified punitive damages against the students. Layshock and the ACLU have filed a suit arguing that the Web postings are protected by the First Amendment.

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