Australian principal wins $40,000 award after Facebook hate page created

A former principal was awarded damages of $40,000 on Friday, over a defamatoryFacebook page. While some may remember these pages are not uncommonly created by students, this page had a difference: It was created by three sets of parents.

Sue Burtenshaw of southern Australia had to be shocked when the Facebook hate page was created in 2010 by the parents of two Coober Pedy Area School students and a former student of Gepps Cross High School. The page had the title “We do not want Sue back at Coober Pedy at all!!!!” (including the exclamation points).

She was transferred away from Coober Pedy Area School as a result.

The ruling involved only one of the parents, Yvonne Knueppel. The other portions of the civil case had been settled out of court, including terms that included an apology to Burtenshaw.

Burtenshaw’s lawyer Carey Goodall said:

I think this is an indication that if people choose to post defamatory comments on social media, such as Facebook, then the courts will, in appropriate cases, award damages to those who choose to do that. My client will be very pleased to put all this behind her.

In his ruling, Magistrate Bill Morris said:

The fact that Ms Knueppel [the mother] used the publication via a Facebook format and the ease of access and republication should be taken into account as a factor that aggravates the award of compensatory damages.

I am satisfied that Ms Knueppel intended to actually cause the hurt and humiliation which I am satisfied was caused.

According to Morris, Kneuppel did not file a defense to the civil action, and deliberately avoided appearing at the legal proceedings. Given that, he entered a default judgment in favor of Burtenshaw.

In addition to the $40,000 awarded to Burtenshaw, Kneuppel was also ordered to pay her legal fees.

In 2011, the Teachers’ Appeal Board ruled the SA Education Department’s decision to move Burtenshaw was “unjust and unreasonable.”