NORWOOD (CBS) – A Massachusetts Superior Court judge has ruled that two brothers who accused a local auto dealership of firing their sister because she had cancer must set aside $1.5 million as a pre-judgement attachment in a libel case involving Clay Nissan of Norwood.
Clay Nissan of Norwood is suing Adam and Jonathan Colter for libel after the bothers accused Clay of firing their sister Jill Colter back in June “because she had cancer.”
They picketed in front of Clay’s dealerships, launched Facebook and web pages calling for a boycott, and contacted local media about their plight.
Read: The Full Court Ruling
CBS Boston was among those media outlets contacted by the campaign, but chose not to run a story after hearing Clay Nissan’s side of the story and learning that the dealership had offered Jill her job back, but she declined.
In a ruling at a preliminary hearing on Friday, Superior Court Justice Renee Dupuis said the evidence showed a “relentless campaign against Clay” that held no merit at all.
The ruling orders the Colter brothers to set aside $1.5 million in the event that the auto dealer wins the lawsuit. The judge states that the Colters ignored facts that would have led a reasonable person to conclude that Jill was not fired because of her cancer. The ruling notes that during Jill’s tenure at Clay, managers spoke to her a number of times about instances where her conduct “was not acceptable in the workplace environment.”
Colter was eventually terminated after a manger “agonized over the decision, particularly in light of Jill’s illness.”
According to the court, Jill told her brothers she was fired “because the company was going in a different direction.”
“Noticeably absent from Adam Colter’s testimony was any information which supported the defamatory claims… Jonathan was vague about the circumstances of his sister’s illness, and what information, if any, Clay had about her illness,” the ruling stated. “He claims not to have known that Clay was aware of Jill’s illness when they hired her. Given the obvious closeness of these siblings… I find that in all likelihood, the Colters knew that Clay was aware that Jill had cancer when they hired her.”
Justice Dupuis also pointed out that Adam Colter made claims that he had received emails from other former employees who were terminated because they had cancer, but, when asked, he was elusive about them, and was ultimately unable to produce those emails.
The court says Clay received angry and threatening emails from a number of people who learned of the Colters’ accusations, and that the dealership lost a significant amount of money as a result of the boycott.
The Colters’ attorney, John Bita III, pointed out that the Judge also ruled she cannot shut down the Colters’ boycott websites, citing First Amendment rights.
According to Bita, the Colters “have asked the Appeals Court to overturn the attachment because it lacks any legal or factual support, and have also asked the trial court to dismiss the case against them on the grounds that it is an attack on their right to free speech under the First Amendment.”
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated the nature of the Sept. 10 decision. The court case has not gone to trial, and the Colters will not have to pay the $1.5 million if they win the court case against Clay.