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Judge Allows Defamation Case Involving False Allegation of Homosexuality to Proceed

A New York judge has allowed a defamation case involving a false allegation to proceed, the Daily Business Review reports:

Broome Mark Yonaty brought the defamation action against Jean Mincolla, who claimed she was "advised" that Mr. Yonaty was gay or bisexual. She in turn sued Ruthanne Koffman, who repeated the allegation to the mother of Mr. Yonaty's girlfriend. Mr. Yonaty claims that once his girlfriend heard the story about his purported sexual orientation, she broke off the relationship. Mr. Yonaty denies he is gay.

In Yonaty v. Mincolla, 1003-2009, Broome County Supreme Court Justice Phillip R. Rumsey rejected the defendants' summary judgment motion, and held that the assertion of homosexuality constituted defamation.

Much more on the case at the DBR...

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  1. I would say this is not a bad decision. Asserting that someone is homosexual per se is not defamation but telling the girlfriend of a presumably heterosexual man that he is gay most certainly is intended to damage his reputation with her.

    Posted by: Jonathan | Jun 20, 2011 2:42:32 PM

  2. Don't know the facts of this case - but it may not be as controversial as it first seems. ANY statement can be defamatory (including statements that someone is gay or straight) as long as the statement was actually false and actually caused damage to someone (usually monetary). Historically, courts used to hold that when you falsely accused someone of being gay, it was "defamatory per se" and, as a result you did not have to prove you were damaged (i.e. because being falsely accused of being gay was considered inherently damaging). I doubt the court made that finding here, though if it did, that would be a huge step back for our legal system.

    Posted by: JPinWeHo | Jun 20, 2011 2:43:28 PM

  3. ugh - just read the link, and indeed, the court DID find that an accusation of homosexuality is defamation per se. Most jurisdictions have rejected that in modern times. It's unfortunate that this jurisdiction has not. It is really a throwback to the days when being gay was considered by the law as a behavior that was inherently wrong.

    Posted by: JPinWeHo | Jun 20, 2011 2:47:36 PM

  4. It's actually New York State law that claiming someone is gay is defamation. They teach it in the torts portion of the New York Bar Review course. It's outdated, but still the law.

    Posted by: Jon B | Jun 20, 2011 2:49:21 PM

  5. My bar review course is now 14 years ago so I don't remember. LOL. But this case might be the one that changes that if it goes far enough.

    Posted by: Jonathan | Jun 20, 2011 2:58:50 PM

  6. Indeed I misread the post. So much for my professionalism. It's no wonder no one will hire me. ;)

    Posted by: JONATHAN | Jun 20, 2011 3:08:26 PM

  7. I didn't read the article. Do people who post here ever act their age? I just read Andy's blurb (which honestly should have spelled out the facts and law more clearly). And, FYI, that wasn't a bad decision if it's the law in New York State. A trial judge is pretty stuck even if a law is bad. Trial courts don't make law.

    Posted by: Jonathan | Jun 20, 2011 3:48:25 PM

  8. Defamation? Is it defamation if a gay person is accused of being straight if he or she were involved with another of the same gender and whose relationship did or didn't suffer as a result? Why is it so terrible to be perceived to be gay anyway?

    Posted by: Robert | Jun 20, 2011 4:01:11 PM

  9. @Robert, I can't state the answer to your question, but I can note that (legalities of NY law specifically aside) it does appear that in this case the relationship DID suffer as a result of the allegation. The girlfriend subsequently left him because she had been told he was (secretly, presumably) gay. That is a solid foundation for emotional distress (losing an otherwise, and, again, presumably, stable relationship, because someone told a lie about you.)

    I'm okay with homosexuality being a defamatory accusation WHEN AND IF the purpose of the intent or result of an intentional accusation was defamation or loss.

    For example, while DADT has been in effect (or prior to DADT when homosexuality was completely forbidden in the Armed Services) a person who purposely spread an accusation (especially if they asserted some sort of false "proof") would clearly be responsible for costing the other career damage (people didn't recover from the worst of the witchhunts and the whispers, even if "cleared.") and/or perhaps the loss of one's career entirely. In that case, an accusation of homosexuality would clearly be intended to wound or hurt some aspect of the person's life, and just as this woman did it to "protect" the girl, the fellow soldier might do it to "protect" the service and "enforce" the law, but the intentional spreading of a statement that oculd have dire consequences for the subject would be clearly defamation in my book, and sue-able.

    I could even see homosexuality being used as a defamatory statement even IF the person was indeed a homosexual. If they stood to lose their job (say, a choir director at an evangelical church) or housing (remember, in many states it's perfectly legal to deny housing to a gay person because they're gay) and someone "outs" them, knowing the results will cost them, it seems the accusation is meant in a defamatory way, not simply in a statement of facts. I know that's not the law, but that's one argument I can see.

    It's not whether or not being a homosexual is a bad thing or not--it's about whether the assertion in some environments that someone is a homosexual could be used as a way to (especially if intentionally) to cost the perosn something. If so, I say sue away.

    Posted by: BreckRoy | Jun 20, 2011 4:19:30 PM

  10. BRECKBOY, that was a longwinded fart of a diatribe. Yes, it is about whether being gay is a good or bad thing. Why would this stupid law exist for??

    Posted by: nikko | Jun 20, 2011 5:44:36 PM

  11. Indeed, I'd be much less likely to want to date some guy if I were told that he was straight.

    Posted by: EdA | Jun 20, 2011 8:14:40 PM

  12. The reverse premise would be equally understandable - telling the husband of a gay man that his partner is actually straight with the intention of damaging the relationship and causing emotional/financial distress for the person targeted.

    Defamation/libel in this instance is not in the act, but the intention. Accusing a Christian minister of being a practicing pagan or accusing a lawyer of unethical behavior, etc. etc. etc. all the same.

    Still, if someone told this guy's girl that he was gay and she believed this person enough to break up with her guy, how strong was the relationship to begin with?

    Really, though, the entire episode seems like it doesn't belong in the court room, but on Jerry Springer. They're having a lawsuit fest and the courts are eating it up.

    Posted by: RJS | Jun 20, 2011 8:50:26 PM

  13. Wait, maybe I'm misreading, but wasn't it the dude's mother who said he was gay?

    Can you sue someone's mother for saying that your ex-fiance is gay?

    Wouldn't a mother usually know this stuff?

    Or did I read it all wrong?

    Posted by: Rin | Jun 20, 2011 9:36:44 PM

  14. If the false statement caused his relationship to break up, he has a case. Extra damages for malice.

    Posted by: wimsy | Jun 21, 2011 11:54:04 AM

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