Texas Defamation Case Study: Teacher v. Students

Teacher Texas DefamationThis is not a case about being hot for the teacher – or a teacher being a little too hot for his or her students. Oh no, this teacher vs. student lawsuit is one for the textbooks, not gossip magazines. English teacher Elizabeth Ethredge of the Waller Independent School District, filed a Texas defamation lawsuit against two of her students, Demi Alyssa Gray and Dylan Noble Wells. Ethredge insists Gray and Noble twisted tales about classroom events in retaliation for being disciplined. But Gray and Noble insist the teacher acted inappropriately in class.

Texas Defamation: A Big Tale Of A Teacher & Two Rebellious High School Students…

Our Texas defamation tale begins in the high school English classroom of Elizabeth Ethredge – an 8-year veteran of the Waller Independent School District. The month was November; the year, 2012. According to Ethredge, she was giving students a State-mandated lesson in oral storytelling. The seasoned teacher opted to regale her class with a tale about her son being robbed at another school in the district.

According to a pair of her students, Gray and Noble, five months after the lesson, Ethredge encouraged students to hone their spy skills, head over to Facebook, and avenge her son’s honor by trying to purchase goods from the person Ethredge believed robbed her offspring.

The curious part about this case, though, is that the students waited months to “snitch” on their teacher. Why? Well, if you believe Ethredge’s side of the story, they only did it in retaliation for her sending them to the principal’s office over breaking school dress code rules and being disruptive in class.

And based on the available evidence, Ethredge may be right.

Soon after Gray and Noble chatted with administrators, during school hours one of them posted to Facebook, “Hey Ethredge ‘I threw stones at your house’ what you got for me big badass?’ Case closed!” Other student responded, “Hahahahah bitch ain’t got SHIT!”

…Which Uncommonly Results In Texas Defamation Litigation

Soon after the two students ratted on their teacher, the school district suspended Ethredge, with pay. Soon after that, administrators seriously considered termination. As a result, she filed an Internet defamation case.

Ethredge is asking for punitive damages, citing defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Ethredge’s claim averred that the students’ actions were a “deliberate and malicious intent to injure plaintiff’s reputation.” To temper any speculation about the nature of her classroom, Ethredge’s suit explains that the “oral storytelling exercise was directly related to and in compliance with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the State Standards for curriculum in public schools in Texas.”

In order to win this case, Ethredge will most likely have to prove material harm – as you can’t win a defamation lawsuit over hurt feelings. It’s interesting to note that Texas does not have a false light tort – if it did, Ethredge may have been able to file a stronger case. That’s not to say she doesn’t have a chance at winning this one – especially since administrators are talking termination — but being able to add a false light charge would put more “meat” on the proverbial bone.

Do you need a defamation lawyer? Contact Kelly Warner Law today. Even though we’re based in Arizona, we’re licensed in the Lone Star State and handle all manners of Texas defamation lawsuits.

Yes, I Want to Speak with Someone about an Internet Law Issue »