• Teacher Awarded Damages for Defamatory Statements Made Against Her
  • March 24, 2015
  • Law Firm: Borden Ladner Gervais LLP - Toronto Office
  • Summary

    In Jacqueline Catherine May v Rebecca Elizabeth Guzzo1 a teacher was awarded damages for defamatory statements made against her. The statements were made by Ms. Guzzo, the defendant, to the principal at the school where Ms. May was a teacher. Ms. Guzzo alleged that Ms. May was involved in criminal activity, including drug use and permitting minors to smoke marijuana at her home. Due to the seriousness of the defamatory remarks, the fact that they were made to the principal of the school, and that Ms. Guzzo refused to retract her remarks, the Court awarded Ms. May $10,000 in general damages.

    Facts

    Ms. May was a teacher employed by the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board. Her son, Mr. Bastarache, was involved in a common law relationship with Ms. Guzzo and had twin boys. Ms. Guzzo and Mr. Bastarache were involved in an acrimonious litigation proceeding for custody of their children.

    Ms. May provided an affidavit in support of her son’s application for custody in which she stated that she had witnessed her son experience emotional and mental abuse at the hands of Ms. Guzzo. Her affidavit also stated that she had “...seen Ms. Guzzo use marijuana on a regular basis, allegedly for pain management”.2

    A month after Ms. May provided her affidavit to the court, Ms. Guzzo called Ms. May’s principal and reported her concern about Ms. May’s alleged drug use and the fact that she had witnessed minors smoking marijuana in her home but failed to report the incident. The principal did not accept Ms. Guzzo’s statements as being valid but she did advise that a report would have to be placed in Ms. May’s personnel file.

    Ms. May asked Ms. Guzzo to retract her statements but she refused. In fact, Ms. Guzzo’s response to the request threatened further contact with the principal: “...I will be calling with the boy who was here when you were smoking with us to have him give a statement....”3

    The Court’s Decision

    Ms. May brought a civil suit against Ms. Guzzo seeking damages for the defamatory remarks made. Ms. May denied the validity of the statements made by Ms. Guzzo. She acknowledged that her principal was not accepting of Ms. Guzzo’s remarks but stating her concern that the defamatory remarks were made in her workplace and that a report was placed in her file.

    Ms. May’s evidence was the Ms. Guzzo was manipulative and believed that her motive for making the statements was to intimidate her in connection with the ongoing child custody litigation. Ms. May also provided further evidence of other defamatory remarks made by Ms. Guzzo in the context of the custody litigation. For example, Ms. Guzzo alleged that parents of students in her class had made threatening calls to the school principal about Ms. May’s inappropriate conduct.

    The suit was undefended by Ms. Guzzo as she was noted in default. As a result, the Dependant was deemed to have admitted to the truth of all the facts stated in Ms. May’s claim. The case proceeded to trial for an assessment of damages.

    In its assessment of damages, the court outlined the factors established by case law which must be considered, including:

    1. the plaintiff’s position and standing in the community;
    2. the nature and seriousness of the defamatory statements;
    3. the mode and extent of publication;
    4. the absence or refusal of a retraction or apology;
    5. the possible effects of the statements upon the plaintiff’s life; and
    6. the motivation and conduct of the defendant.4
    The judge also referred to section 16 of the Libeland Slander Act, which states that “slander affecting professional reputation does not require a plaintiff to prove special damages”.5

    Applying these factors to the case, the Court considered the facts that: the defamatory remarks made were alleging criminal activity; that the remarks were made to Ms. May’s employer; that they were made with malice; and that Ms. Guzzo refused to retract the remarks. Consequently, the judge awarded Ms. May general damages in the amount of $10,000. Punitive damages were not awarded.

    Take-Away

    An important take-away from this case is to keep meticulous records of everything when facing a situation where defamatory remarks are being made. In Ms. May’s case, she had written evidence that she had requested a retraction from Ms. Guzzo and that it had been refused. In the end, the Court put great weight on Ms. Guzzo’s refusal to retract the defamatory remarks and factored it into the decision to award damages.



    1 2013 ONSC 3332.

    2 Ibid at 4.

    3 Supra note 1 at 8.

    4 Supra note 1 at 19.

    5 Supra note 1 at 20.