Court Dismisses Defamation and False Light/Privacy Claims Brought By Alleged Harasser Against Law Professor

In Catalanello v. Kramer (decided May 7, 2014), Southern District Judge Paul Engelmayer dismissed plaintiff Robert Catalanello’s complaint alleging defamation and false light invasion of privacy against law professor Zachary Kramer.

Applying New Jersey law, the court held that the alleged defamatory statements (which were contained in Kramer’s law review article titled “Of Meat and Manhood” and a lecture delivered by Kramer titled “Of Meat and Manhood/The New Sex Discrimination”) were protected by the “fair-report” privilege or non-actionable opinion.

In 2009, Credit Agricole junior trader Ryan Pacifico filed a lawsuit against (among others) Credit Agricole and Catalanello. He alleged that Catalanello discriminated against him and subjected him to a hostile work environment due to plaintiff’s perceived sexual orientation (due, claimed plaintiff, to his vegetarianism). For example, plaintiff alleged that Catalanello referred to him as a “vegetarian homo.”

In his article and lecture, Kramer used plaintiff’s case to illustrate the shortcomings of modern discrimination law as it applies to male vegetarians. Kramer sued, alleging (among other things) that Kramer “simply made up material regarding what Catalanello did and why” and “presented this material as fact.”

The court held that the statements were subject to the fair report privilege, noting that “Kramer gave a ‘full, fair, and accurate account’ of the allegations in Pacifico’s then-ongoing discrimination suit against Catalanello … in a way that made clear that the information presented from the Pacifico lawsuit consisted of mere allegations and that the lawsuit remained pending.”

It also held that the statements were non-actionable opinion. Specifically, the “statements constitute Kramer’s commentary on the allegations contained in the Pacifico Complaint” and the statements were “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.”