April 9, 2007 11:00 AM PDT

Principal sues ex-students over MySpace profiles

A Pennsylvania school principal has filed a lawsuit against four former students, claiming they falsely portrayed him as a pot smoker, beer guzzler and pornography lover and sullied his reputation through mock MySpace profiles.

Eric Trosch was principal of Hickory High School in Hermitage, Penn., at the time the short-lived profiles went up on the popular social-networking site. He claims that the students committed defamation by posting three separate profiles bearing his name, official school portrait and a host of "unsubstantiated allegations, derogatory comments and false statements" about him, according to a complaint filed last month in Mercer County, Penn., civil court.

Each of the disputed sites, which went online during the course of one week in December 2005, was removed within days of its appearance after school officials contacted MySpace.com. Trosch has since become principal of Hermitage Middle School.

One profile, which the complaint claims was created by a student named Thomas Cooper, listed an unnamed pornographic flick as Trosch's favorite movie, according to the complaint. Another profile, allegedly posted by students Christopher and Brendan Gebhart, claimed he "liked to have sex with students and brutalize women." A third profile said he "kept a keg of beer behind his desk at school, was on steroids, and smoked marijuana," the court filing said.

The latter posting, which the complaint attributes to Justin Layshock, is already the subject of a federal lawsuit that has been wending its way through court since early last year.

Layshock--then a 17-year-old Hickory High School senior with a 3.3 GPA--and his parents sued Trosch and the Hermitage school district over the school's response to the incident. Its response included suspending him from school and placing him in an alternative education program that allegedly prevented him from progressing with his normal coursework. That complaint argues the school's actions were excessive, violated Layshock's First Amendment free-speech rights, and interfered with his parents' freedom to judge how best to raise and educate their son.

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82 comments

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Free speech?!?!
Free speech ends where libel begins.
Posted by robbtuck (132 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes, but
it is not officially libel unless it has been proved as such in court. Any retaliatory actions undertaken by the gentleman other than the libel suit could most likely be seen as an abuse of this power as a school administrator.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
Free speech has its limits
Freedom of speech also means that you are responsible for what you say. If you're going to talk trash about someone and smear their reputation (even if it supposed to be a joke), you can be held legally accountable. Maybe if these stupid kids had learned the meaning of "libel", they wouldn't be in this mess now.
Posted by Get_Bent (534 comments )
Link Flag
nice boring idiot
totally zero sense of humor, only idiots can file lawsuit like that. And he expects to win that?
Posted by cocos2000 (37 comments )
Reply Link Flag
He may well.
Libel and slander are actionable torts.

Welcome to The Real World.

/P
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Link Flag
Principal not cut out for his chosen career
The truth is being an authority figure will make you a target for unflattering portrayals. Politicians, executives, managers, religious leaders, police officers, teachers, deans, and of course high school principals have known this for generations. The fact is if you are going to create or enforce rules, you will be an object to be ridiculed by those who many not agree with your content or style. Those who take themselves too seriously tend to get a double dose. Anyone choosing a career as a leader had better have thick enough skin to handle this or they should find a less socially facing position.

The internet is just the next thing past writing or engraving juvenile prose on the bathroom walls. We should just be thankful its not costly to us taxpayers like real vandalism.

In my opinion, this high school principal should be terminated as he does not show himself to be leadership material. If you can?t let dissent roll of your back and rise above you have no business leading people. Imagine the world if President Bush started suing everyone that called him a draft dodging, coke snorting, drunk, with bad grades.
Posted by bwvla (166 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Even a principal should not endure that.
Just because he is a principal does not mean he should endure
liable. It is one thing for a student to pass natsy notes or post
something rude on their page. These kids created pages in his
name and then repeatedly slandered them. As a professional he
has the right to say that is too far. The internet is highly
different then a bathroom wall, and this could follow him
through out his career.

"Imagine the world if President Bush started suing everyone that
called him a draft dodging, coke snorting, drunk, with bad
grades."

Those are true statements. Nothing these kids publicly wrote
are valued as true.
Posted by leiakat (3 comments )
Link Flag
Oh, I think his response was just fine.
Little Johnny wants to bad-mouth the school principal online? Let him eat the consequences for it. I'm willing to wager that at least one of the kiddies involved learned hard and fast that lack of respect for the uppers = dimmed career prospects.

You think it's too rough? Then tell me what you think would happen if these kids did the same thing years later... about their boss or CEO. I'm very sure that unemployment and (in many career fields) a big, fat blackballing would come along as a result.

Better they get it now, when there's time to repair the damage and learn from it, than later, when the kid's entire career goes down the crapper due to some stupid prank.

/P
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Link Flag
very good point of view!
Exactly, thats very good answer to Mr Principal Loser. Ups, I might get sued!
Posted by cocos2000 (37 comments )
Link Flag
You've got a lot to learn about "free speech."
Those kids will learn a hard lesson about public defamation when the lawsuits are heard.

Fortunately, those lawsuits will help others, like the poster above, learn about what rights are and what they aren't, without costing them a nickel.

The internet didn't magically change the US libel laws.
Posted by M C (598 comments )
Reply Link Flag
BTW, "you" refers to "bwvla"
CNet's "talkback" functionality leaves a ton to be desired.
Posted by M C (598 comments )
Link Flag
Free Speech covers minors too you idiot
First, I do not agree with the topic the school children chose to place online. I do not condone any type of profanity. However, I think that the Principle needs a slap in court to remind him that all citizens have a RIGHT to FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

I so sick of whiny people like this principle crying to the courts becaus etheir feelings have been hurt. I deal with negative comments about myslef all the time. The difference is that I have to deal with comments from all over our great nation. Poor baby. Ahh, someone needs a binky.
Posted by Flynn_1 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
The 1st Amendment does not excuse Libel or Slander.
Please, go look the two terms up before you pontificate:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libel" target="_newWindow">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libel</a>

/P
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Link Flag
Definition of Freedom Of Speech
The Definition of Freedom Of Speech would best be stated by this quote.

Your Right to Freedom of Speech ENDS where another person's begins.

Now... if you want to go and say "Well can the school punish a kid if it was on a personal level" then yes... the case has some water to step in. It was debated at my school when the same occured... if he didn't access it at school... didn't create it at school... didn't advertise it at school... he seperated his personal and school lives. Its like cursing at home and being suspended at school for it.
Posted by timber2005 (720 comments )
Reply Link Flag
We don't have the right to slander others.
I'm shocked to see that some idiots out there think that free speech gives them the right to lie/slander others. Here is a news flash for you it is wrong and illegal. Please stay in school.
These students should be ashamed of their children's poor behavior. The parents should demand that their children apoligize for they did and said to Mr. Trosch. Their children were punished for what they did, as they should be. Now Layshock's parents think they have the right to sue? That is outrageous, no wonder why their kid is a mess. They need a counselor not a lawyer. They obiviously lack the morals and character for good parenting, Thinking they should be rewarded for their poor behavior, now that is the saddest part of this whole story.
Posted by carol2u (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Yes
if slander was commited then the administrator has to right to sue for relief. He does not have the right to abuse his power by retaliating against the student in his official capacity as a school official. That is just as unethical as the slander.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
Agreed
No one has the right to defame and make libelous statements. The perpetrator thinks they are covered by freedome of speech. Libel and defamation are not covered by freedom of speech.
Posted by Victim of Cyberstalking (8 comments )
Link Flag
It is only slander if it conveys facts
Opinion, including satire, will not usually support a suit for slander.

For the principal to prevail he should need to show that someone took the kids stunts seriously.

It would have been better if the students had just used Photoshop to make him a butt-head. (Search Google for - butt-head astronomer sagan - if you are curious.)

All the lawsuits show is that we have become a nation of hyper-sensitive potential plaintiffs hoping to strike it rich. Sad.
Posted by ReasonableGuy (98 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You have that backwards
Slander does not convey facts. In point of fact truth is a soverign defense against charges of libel or slander.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
Remember the parents sued first
You would hope a normal parents' reaction to finding out their child is publicly slandering their principal, a person who should receive basic respect, would be disappointment in their child. Going to the principal and working something out, apologize and take a good look at where their child is heading. No, this child's parents decided to sue. To send the message to their child that he can say whatever he wants, and the person has to take it. To sue that they have be robbed of the right to parent their child. Obviously, this right is being misused or there would have been a different reaction.

If the student had slapped the principal, no one would be shocked that the student was punished. The child instead slanders the principal - and the principal is supposed to just deal with it. I think there are some screwed up values here.
Posted by leiakat (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Precisely so
The Principle had no right to use his power as a school administrator to retaliate against the student. If he believes that he was libeled, he has every right to bring suit.

However, he has no right to use his official power to retaliate against the students, most especially for actions that took place outside of school. Indeed, there is a good 14 Amendment argument that such treatment is unconstitutional.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
Power-tripping without regard for freedom of speech
It would be interesting to hear legal arguments as to whether the Myspace profiles of this prinicpal constituted parody of a "celebrity"--certainly not in the general public's eye, but definitely at the high school in question. From the sounds of it, these profiles were so clearly NOT created by the principal that they could not be seriously construed as authentic statements from the principal.

How did the students damage his reputation if the profiles were clearly fakes and parodies?

Putting the question of law aside--who is this thin-skinned jerk?!? People like Trosch are bullies in suits who are more interested in putting kids "in their place" than helping them develop into adults.

My high school's vice principal, Dave Connolly, was like this--more interested in handing down detentions and bullying students than making the school a safe and pleasant environment. Everyone called him "Brave Dave" because we all knew he was a coward. Back when the students were allowed to put on a show, Connolly was regularly parodied as a heavy-handed buffoon. You didn't see any lawsuits coming from that...

I hope Eric Trosch has an easier time at the Middle School. Poor baby.
Posted by kcar27 (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
more facts
I dislike articles that don't convey all the facts, how much pot did this principal allegedly smoke? where any of these posted allegations proven? why did the principal change schools?
Posted by HlLLARY CLTON (382 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A lot has been left out
One of the things I found interesting was that it stated in the article "he has since become principal" and "the school's response". Both of those sentences, to me, show he may not have been the one responsible for giving out the punishment, so the arguement that he abused power might not be a valid one since he may not have been the principle at the time. Now the school may have violated the student's rights, but the article does not show that it was the current principle who did it. Another thing, he of course has the right to sue those students because of their actions, but that doesn't mean it will hold up in court. If he can prove that some of the parents or faculty had a negative reaction to the those postings and it affected him somehow then he has a case. Either way, the idiot kids need to learn a lesson from all this and their parents ought to take a lesson from it as well about their parenting skills.
Posted by Jayoftn (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
MySpace
Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46


need I say more?
Posted by randallhsmith (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MySpace
Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46


need I say more?
Posted by randallhsmith (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Unfortunately
subsequent case law muddies the waters;
See Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323 (1974)

Even though he is a government employee in a position of power he may not be Public individual re Gertz.

Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1 (1990)? muddies the case even further.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
All you Lame Lawyers...
All this arguing about free speech... Something to think about,
next time you consider vandalism... be it car windows or people's
reputations.

Little fuvkers are lucky he didn't lose it and break some face... You
shvits ever hear of the "Golden Rule?" ***, I'd do the couple years
probation for a provoked attack... Jus sayin'
Posted by Al E. Gator (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yep, in my day the principal would have been within his rights...
to beat the little bastards senseless with a cane. Now his only recourse is the courts.
Posted by fcekuahd (244 comments )
Link Flag
Re: All you Lame Lawyers...
"Little fuvkers are lucky he didn't lose it and break some face... You shvits ever hear of the "Golden Rule?" ***, I'd do the couple years probation for a provoked attack... Jus sayin'"

Grow up. If Trosch actually did that, his teaching career would be over in a second. And he'd face jail time PLUS a civil lawsuit.

Maybe you think Eric Trosch is in the right. Did you know that he forced one of the students, a kid who was taking AP classes and tutoring other students in French, to enroll in an "alternative-learning environment" for kids who couldn't cope with normal classroom settings?

This ALE group met for only three hours a day. One of their assignments was to build a pyramid out of paper clips in order to learn about team-work. Does that sound like a good punishment--taking a very strong student and preventing him from getting a good high school education?

Trosch is a loser and a jerk. Maybe you two have a lot in common.
Posted by kcar27 (50 comments )
Link Flag
What all you non-teachers dont understand..
is that any accusation of sexual impropriety essentially can ruin a career regardless of how unfounded or untrue it is.

They crossed the line by implying sexual impropriety which could potentially pave the way for his life both professionally and otherwise to be ruined.
Posted by volterwd (466 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not getting it
The court ruled in the kids favor.

From what I understand, the kid posed as the principal then posted a fake profile as that principal.

Is then it ok on MY Space to pose as someone else then post a fake profile?
Posted by SteamChip (594 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I highly doubt
that putting up fake profiles is within MySpace's terms of service. The article did not say that the Principle had any trouble having them taken down, so I am assuming they cooperated.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
The profile
hmm I would like to see the profile in question myself to see if he actually has a case. But, unfortunataly I seem to be having trouble locating it.
Posted by Fremia (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Reality Check
I can say from personal experience that even when proven innocent, the mere accusation of sexual abuse, statutory rape, or sexual discrimination in a teacher, school official, or government manager means that that person will no longer be able to effectively work in his or her field in that locality, most likely not in that state, and possibly never again in their field. It's especially egregious for military personnel in that it's actually against regulations to even have the APPEARANCE of impropriety. Failure to obey a military regulation is a court-martial offense and has the same severity as a FELONY.

So to those of you who say "just shrug it off", or that "the principle is too thin-skinned", or "the school over-reacted", you've clearly shown you all fail to understand the ramifications of an accusation of sexual impropriety on a person's professional career and personal life. In fact, you're all clearly ignorant, your opinions have zero merit, and any posts by you here are of as much value as the grunting of pigs on the farm.
Posted by Dr_Zinj (727 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If it is judged as Parody it is legal
I am not a lawyer but my understanding is that
regardless of whether sexual impropriety is alleged or not as long as the work is not making an actual assertion of fact or understood by as a reasonable person as not being credible it as protected speech.

see: Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46

And since the parties are civilian your UCMJ arguments are meaningless.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
Have you ever been defamed online?
I can understand the principals point of view. As a person who has had their name, picture and numerous defamitory and libelous statements made on a searchable forum I ask this: How is it legal for the poster has more rights covered by freedom of speach than the person who has been defamed?

You do realize that there are websites designed and created with the only purpose to embarrass modify, defame and cruxify people that have pissed off other people? I could give you a list. Should they be covered under the freedom of speech. I think not!

Check out: dontdatehim.com playersandpsychos.com cheaternews.com.

I love this one: on survivinginfidelity.com if you post I believe its 52 messages you are let into a "secret" forum for investigative issues. In other words, if you post enough on that site, you can get into a forum on how to get revenge by posting on the above listed sites, hacking into email accounts...

At least myspace takes the profiles off when contacted. Some of the sites I listed above do not. playersandpsychos does but the others will not!
Posted by Victim of Cyberstalking (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Unfortunately
what you believe should be covered by free speech rights is not necessarilly the same as what actually is. Keep in mind many risque and scandalous political cartoons and writings have been uset to bring the mighty low. In fact SCOTUS has quoted the possible chilling effect on such speech when carving out a large exemption for parody and other worls that reasonable people would not consider credible assertions of fact.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
Mutual abuse
School administrators tend to take themselves WAY to seriously. Here, we have a school policy that the school has authority over students portal-to-portal and I refused to sign off on that portion of the school regs. By that token, public schools do not have the Constitutional authority to censure a student or to in any way impede their academic progress by punishing them for something they say or do off school grounds, "policy" notwithstanding. If they do, it is abuse of office.

But, contrary to popular student opinion, the average school administrator does not meet the test of being a "public person," when it comes to parody, libel (publishing) or slander (speech) and as such has the right to sue in a civil court of law. But, they also have the burden of establishing a level of "damage" that can be awarded by a judge or jury.

Another consideration is that anyone can just about sue for anything and whether the case has merit or not, the defending party incurs a tremendous legal expense whether they win the case or not.

Parents are legally responsible for the actions of their minor children and these type suits are usually ruinous to a family's finances. So, while we all enjoy the freedom of speech card, it must be used responsibly like the Second Amendment.

I spent more than 30 years as a newspaper writer and editor and I spiked many a story that did not have proper support and documentation, even if I knew the story to be true because unless you can prove an allegation then the risk of litigation is real- just to keep you quiet. I was also sued several times and our paper(s) prevailed, but still ended up paying thousands to our attorney.

If this happened in a town where I was editor, the editorial would say that the student was wrong for being disrespectful, but the principal was more wrong for using his or her office to extract revenge.
Posted by dhughes248 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I don't now if people are aware of the following...
First, it is alledged the students opened accounts in the principle's name. Impersonating someone else, especially without their permission is a crime in itself. There have been people who have lost their jobs, their families, been victims of all types of crimes from online stalking to murder, some people have gone to jail, etc. for things posted online in chatrooms, blogs, personal websites, online communities, e-mail, and you name it. Don't fool yourselves employers, family members, students, law enforcement, and the general public pay close attention to these websites. If you don't believe this do a websearch for articles on CYBERSTALKING! Listen to the radio and watch the news. I don't know what his institution's policy is but at many schools you can gets punishments anywhere from being denied internet access to being permanently expelled for that behaviour! Most of the folks on here who don't take this seriously seem to be teenagers themselves who don't understand much about the trouble the can cause to others and get into themselves!!! Here are some sites to checkout: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.cyberangels.org/" target="_newWindow">http://www.cyberangels.org/</a> , <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.safetyed.org/" target="_newWindow">http://www.safetyed.org/</a> , <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.stoptextbully.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.stoptextbully.com/</a> , <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.cameraphonereport.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.cameraphonereport.com/</a> PS: Do a search for "Dangers of MySpace".
Posted by 5602 (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Regardless
of what the students did outside of class. Neither the institution or the administrator had any right to abuse their power by retaliating against the students in their official capacities.

The instructor, as the allegedly wrong party, does however, have the right to bring civil suit.

If any of the cyberstalking laws were applicable you can bet that some overzealous DA would have brought criminal charges against the students. But, since that has not happened, it is likely that no actual criminal activity as taken place.

Most of those who don't take this seriously realize that many school administrator are hopelessly authoritarian stuffed shirts, who are both too sensitive about their "authority" and often little tin pot dictators that get a rush from exercising their "power".

In short, if the administrator wins his suit then the students went to far. If he loses we see that it is just the whining of a petty bureaucrat who has been taken down a notch.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
Slander is a crime
These kids are teaching other teenagers a valuable lesson.

Bring this up with your children.
Posted by khuss66 (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Slander is a crime
These kids are teaching other teenagers a valuable lesson.

Bring this up with your children.
Posted by khuss66 (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Actually
Slander is a civil offense, not a criminal one.
So technically it is not a crime.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
In my time
Ya went out in to the hall and took your hacks (for those of you how don't know that was a paddle administered by a third party looking on, most of the time) and then school would have called home to a RESPSONABLE parent and then you had a few hours (to think about how you could get out of it, HA HA) before the old man got home from work before you went out to the woodshed with him and had a visit and then you went back and apolagized for being wrong (right,wrong, or indifferent)because you were taught to RESPECT your elders (even if they are wrong)(Child molesters NOT included, they should be shot on sight but thats a different discussion), and then that was the end of it. THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BEATING AND A SPANKING!!!
Posted by mocefish (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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