False Accusation of Having Used a Slur Lead to Damages Award and Possible Punitives
From Cody v. Dirir, decided last Friday by Connecticut Superior Court Judge Donna Wilkerson Brillant, the court’s findings of fact:
On October 12, 2022, the plaintiff and the defendant were students at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut (University). They did not know each other until October 12, 2022, when the defendant attended a party at a home of a fraternity that the plaintiff was a member of and where he resided. During the party, the defendant believed that she was called a nigger (N-word) by another member of the fraternity, Frank V., a black male. When the defendant told the plaintiff, a white male, that Frank called her the N-word, the plaintiff tried to convince her that Frank would never say that and if he did, he did not intend it in a negative way as he used the N-word with an “a” at the end of the word and not with an “er” at the end of the word. Frank used the N-word in the defendant’s presence, and she believed the word was directed to her.
The defendant was upset by this exchange at the party, and after the defendant left the party, she reported this encounter to her cousin, … Ellie …. With the defendant’s assistance of providing a picture of the plaintiff and Frank, Ellie posted on her Twitter page the picture of Frank and the plaintiff with the following statement: “These two called my little cousin a nigga and continued to belittle her infront of their white friends at a UConn frat party. If anyone knows their names, please let me know. And tell them keep that energy.” The statement with the picture (also referred to as “post” or “tweet”) was seen initially by approximately 700 to 1000 people who are the cousin’s Twitter followers. Those followers then forwarded the post/tweet to their Twitter followers, resulting in approximately 5000 or more people viewing the post.
The next day, a meeting was held with the plaintiff and the defendant and their respective friends at the defendant’s dormitory hall, at which the defendant admitted to the students in attendance that the plaintiff did not call her the N-word. The defendant invited approximately ten people to the meeting, of whom some were vulgar and did not allow the plaintiff to speak, telling him to “shut up, white boy.” The plaintiff, Frank, and two other members of the plaintiff’s fraternity, Nihar and Akrash, attended the meeting. Frank apologized to the defendant at the meeting as he explained that his statement was not directed at her but at his fraternity brother.
Also at the meeting, the plaintiff stated that he did not use the N-word and his fraternity brothers stated that the plaintiff was receiving threats of physical violence on Twitter. The defendant was made aware of the threats of violence against the plaintiff. The defendant stated at the meeting that the plaintiff did not use the N-word and that she would remove the post if the plaintiff apologized, as she still wanted an apology from him and from the fraternity and after receiving the apologies, she would then report the incident to the University’s community standards office, which governs the code of conduct for students. Only after those events occurred would she tell her cousin to remove the tweet.
The plaintiff was not willing to agree to the defendant’s request for an apology in order to have the tweet removed and, therefore, due to the threats of physical violence against him, he reported the threats to the state police. The state police spoke to the defendant about the threatening posts and told the defendant to remove the tweet from Twitter. At that time, the defendant spoke to Ellie about removing the tweet by informing Ellie that the state police visited her and told her to remove the tweet. Ellie then removed the tweet from Twitter.
Ellie realized later that the plaintiff had not used the N-word and she was not aware of that when she posted the tweet. Ellie believes her tweet could have been worded “better” and admitted in a signed affidavit that she was “misinformed” about the situation because the plaintiff did not say the N-word and “[did no
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