Pennsylvania jury orders middle school student to pay teacher $500,000 for invading privacy on Web site

A Northampton jury rejected a teacher’s claim of defamation against one of her students, but still awarded her $500,000 on the grounds that the student’s Web site invaded her privacy.

Kathleen Fulmer, a math teacher at Nitschmann Middle School in the Bethlehem Area School District, filed the suit in August 1999 against Justin Swidler, one of her former students. She sought compensation for alleged damages suffered as a result of Swidler’s Web site,, created on his home computer. The site featured, among other things, a picture of Fulmer morphing into Adolf Hitler and a list of reasons she should be fired.

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

Should the parties not reach a settlement, Fulmer is seeking an additional $45,817.46 in delay damages. That amount represents the interest Fulmer would have received on the jury’s award between the filing of her lawsuit and the jury’s verdict using the formula allowed under Pennsylvania law.

Swidler was expelled in May 1998 when school officials discovered the site. He then filed a suit against the school district claiming the punishment violated his First Amendment rights. A Pennsylvania trial court ruled for the school district, and a state appellate court upheld that ruling in June 2000. Swidler’s attorneys have petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to hear an appeal, but the court has yet to issue a response.