Oprah Winfrey on trial for defamatory comments towards former headmistress

Legal news for attorneys handling free speech cases. Oprah Winfrey accused of making defamatory remarks regarding former South African school headmistress.

Oprah Winfrey accused of making defamatory remarks about headmistress of South African leadership academy following abuse allegations.

Philadelphia, PA – A trial set to begin on March 29, 2010 in Philadelphia will determine if Oprah Winfrey’s comments defamed the former headmistress of Winfrey’s South African leadership academy for girls. The comments were spurred from an abuse scandal that occurred at the school in 2007, as reported by CNN.

The lawsuit was filed by the headmistress, Lerato Nomvuyo Mzamane, which named Oprah Winfrey and her production company, Harpo. Following the abuse allegations, Winfrey immediately suspended Mzamane and later fired her. According to the lawsuit, Winfrey made statements at a news conference and at a private meeting among parents, which then became public, that defamed Mzamane by implying she was aware of the abuse and attempted to cover it up. Mzamane contends that the abuse complaints were never brought to her attention nor did she have a chance to defend herself against the allegations. The lawsuit stated, “Instead Winfrey elected to forgo the option of questioning Plaintiff directly as to her knowledge of the abusive conduct and published statements which arguably created the impression that Plaintiff did in fact have some level of involvement in the Dorm Parents misconduct.”

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno ruled that a jury could interpret Winfrey’s comments to be defamatory. Winfrey was quoted in lawsuit saying, ’any person that has caused harm’ to students would be let go… Winfrey said she fired Mzamane because she had ‘lost confidence’ her ability to run the school.” The suit also contended that Winfrey told parents that the headmistress did not take the students complaints seriously. Mzamane contends that the comments damaged her reputation and will not be able to get another job in education for a year.

Winfrey’s South African leadership academy for girls, which opened in 2007, was created to provide opportunities to girls from poor families.

Legal News Reporter: Nicole Howley-Legal news for lawyers handling free speech cases.

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