In an opinion issued today, Judge Engelmayer dismissed defamation and false-light invasion of privacy claims brought against a law professor who wrote a law review article (and gave a related lecture) about sexual discrimination in the workplace. The article and lecture by Professor Zachary Kramer, titled “Of Meat and Manhood,” discussed problems with courts’ treatment of gender stereotyping claims. The author used as a case study a lawsuit that accused a managing director of Credit Agricole named Robert Catalanello of workplace discrimination for harassing a vegetarian employee on the assumption that he was gay. After Kramer published the article, the employee, Ryan Pacifico, dropped the discrimination claim against Catalanello. Catalanello sued Kramer for defamation and false-light invasion of privacy. Judge Engelmayer dismissed the defamation claims as protected by the fair-report privilege or non-actionable opinion under New Jersey law:
Here, Kramer gave a “full, fair, and accurate account” of the allegations in Pacifico’s then-ongoing discrimination suit against Catalanello. Significantly, Kramer did so in a way that made clear that the information presented from the Pacifico lawsuit consisted of mere allegations and that the lawsuit remained pending. In this vein, the article introduces the Pacifico Complaint, with citations to the publicly-filed document in footnotes, as “an ongoing lawsuit in which an employee has brought a discrimination claim against his former employer, alleging that the employer discriminated against him because he is vegetarian.” Article at 7 (emphases added). In the same paragraph, the article goes on to describe, in general terms, Pacifico’s “claims” and “allegations.” Id. Given this preface, a “reasonable person would understand that the [Pacifico Complaint] alleged certain facts, but that those allegations had not yet been adjudicated.” *** Catalanello also alleges defamation with respect to portions of the article and the lecture in which Kramer offered what he termed an “alternative reading of Pacifico’s case.” In these portions, Kramer addressed the “broader implications of the discrimination [Pacifico] faced in the workplace,” and posited that “vegetarianism and sexual orientation merely served as proxies for the real reason Catalanello and others discriminated against Pacifico—he failed to conform to their idea of how a ‘real’ man is supposed to look and act.” Am. Compl. ¶ 15; see also id. ¶ 28 (“The lesson of Pacifico’s case is that sex discrimination sometimes manifests as other forms of discrimination—in this case, as a hybrid of vegetarian and sexual orientation discrimination.”) (emphases omitted). . . . Fairly read, however, these statements constitute Kramer’s commentary on the allegations contained in the Pacifico Complaint. As such, these statements are protected by the First Amendment. The challenged statements are preceded by qualifying language that makes clear that Kramer is offering his opinion as to the motivations underlying Catalanello’s alleged actions, and his opinion as to how Pacifico’s case fits into his theories as to gender and sexuality discrimination law. Significantly, in the article, Kramer states explicitly that he “argues that Catalanello viewed Pacifico’s vegetarianism as a proxy for effeminacy,” Article at 23 (emphasis added); and in the lecture, he states that he “think[s] it’s gender stereotyping,” Lecture Video (emphasis added). Further, Kramer’s statements as to Catalanello’s statement of mind are not, by their nature, “specific factual assertions that could be proven true or false.” DeAngelis, 180 N.J. at 14. Read in context, these statements are properly viewed as statements of opinion—an academic’s ruminations—and therefore are not actionable as defamation.
Judge Engelmayer dismissed the false-light claims for essentially the same reasons.