Jury orders student to pay teacher $500,000 for invading privacy on Web site

PENNSYLVANIA — A Northampton jury rejected a teacher’sclaim of defamation against one her students, but still awardedher $500,000 on the grounds that the student’s Web site invadedher privacy.

Kathleen Fulmer, a math teacher at Nitschmann Middle Schoolin the Bethlehem Area School District, filed the suit in August1999 against Justin Swidler, one of her former students. She soughtcompensation for alleged damages suffered as a result of Swidler’sWeb site, TeacherSux.com, created on his home computer. The sitefeatured, among other things, a picture of Fulmer morphing intoAdolf Hitler and a list of reasons she should be fired.

Swidler’s attorney, Richard Maurer, said he is negotiatinga settlement with Fulmer.

Should the parties not reach a settlement, Fulmer is seekingan additional $45,817.46 in delay damages. That amount representsthe interest Fulmer would have received on the jury’s award betweenthe filing of her lawsuit and the jury’s verdict using the formulaallowed under Pennsylvania law.

Swidler was expelled in May 1998 when school officials discoveredthe site. He then filed a suit against the school district claimingthe punishment violated his First Amendment rights. A Pennsylvaniatrial court ruled for the school district, and a state appellatecourt upheld that ruling in June 2000. Swidler’s attorneys havepetitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to hear an appeal, butthe court has yet to issue a response.