Stern v. Cosby, et al.
Case involving a claim, among others, that statements describing plaintiff as gay were defamatory per se, entitling him to presumed damages.
Howard K. Stern filed a lawsuit claiming that he was defamed by passages in a book titled Blonde Ambition: The Untold Story Behind the Death of Anna Nicole Smith. Lambda Legal’s friend-of-the-court brief argues that Stern’s first two claims of defamation rest on the flawed premise that being called gay would expose someone to public hatred and shame.
Contemporary New York public policy and case law regarding gay men and lesbians accord these members of the community substantial legal respect and prohibit treating them as shameful and odious. Because New York law and public policy affirm that it is neither shameful nor disgraceful to be identified as lesbian or gay, it is not defamatory per se to describe someone as gay.
Lambda Legal’s Impact
Validation of this type of defamation claim, and its underlying premise, would have a demeaning effect on gay men and lesbians, similar to the effect caused by state sodomy laws before they were struck down by Lambda Legal’s 2003 U.S. Supreme Court victory, Lawrence v. Texas. The Plaintiff’s claims are out of step with New York law and public policy, which have repeatedly affirmed the rights and dignity of gay men and lesbians.
- October 2007 Plaintiff files complaint.
- December 2008 Defendants move for summary judgment. One of the arguments raised is that it is not defamatory per se under New York law to state that someone is gay or lesbian.
- January 2009 Plaintiff opposes summary judgment, arguing that he was defamed per se by statements, among others, describing him as gay.
- March 2009 Lambda Legal files friend-of-the-court brief, arguing that Plaintiff was not defamed per se when he was described as gay.
- August 2009 Victory! The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York rejects Stern’s claim that merely being described as gay is defamatory per se.