A graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater has made it his mission to “inform the public” about his former professor’s behaviors before “she victimizes someone else,” he said on YouTube, outlining the so-called injustices he suffered in her class. Anthony Llewellyn, the disgruntled student, also reported his complaints on professor-rating sites and other forms of social media. But professor Sally Vogl-Bauer is fighting back. The tenured professor is suing Llewellyn, alleging his actions amount to defamation, according to The Associated Press.
On its Internet Defamation Removal Attorneys blog, Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease partner Whitney Gibson and staff attorney Jordan Cohen said that although this is not the first case of this kind, “these lawsuits have not arisen frequently in the internet context to date.” The lawyers explained that online ratings and reviews are growing in popularity—RateMyProfessor.com contains more than 14 million ratings. The site guidelines indicate content that is harmful or defamatory will be removed, so Gibson and Cohen suggest the first line of defense for anyone in a similar situation would be to contact the site and request that the defamatory content be removed.
But for Vogl-Bauer it’s not so simple. Llewellyn’s actions go beyond one bad online review. Colleen Flaherty in InsideHigherEd.com writes that the student also contacted a professional organization—the Eastern Communication Association—making similar statements found online, as well as sending the professor’s colleagues a similar email. Vogl-Bauer’s lawyer, Timothy Edwards of Cullen Weston Pines & Bach, told Flaherty that Llewellyn’s actions don’t amount to protected speech. “When somebody goes onto the Internet because they’ve gotten a bad grade or result they don’t like, and anonymously posts things to get even or secure revenge,” those actions shouldn’t be condoned, he said.
Attorney Marlisse Silver Sweeney is a freelance writer based in Vancouver. Twitter: @MarlisseSS.