Users of PerezHilton.com Beware: Hilton Sued For Providing Private Information About His Users.
LAWFUEL – On July 14, 2008, Perez Hilton, aka Mario Armando Lavandeira, Jr., was sued for $25 million, because he allegedly lied to the users of his site; intentionally released personal information without consent; and refused to live up to his own terms of conditions. The lawsuit was filed by Diane Wargo, a nurse working with the elderly for over 15 years, whose life was ripped apart because of Hilton’s intentional dissemination of her full name and employer information after she challenged Hilton’s opinions. A copy of the Complaint filed in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas in Cleveland, Ohio and assigned to the Honorable Judge David Matia is attached.
Wargo’s attorney, Brian Spitz of The Spitz Law Firm, LLC, said that it is his opinion that this is a clear case of Hilton changing the rules as he goes to suit his own impulses, “His users are expressly told that he will protect their privacy and that the posted dialog is submitted anonymously. The online posting system works because of the anonymity give to the participants. If you can’t trust that your privacy will be protected, why would you post?”
The Conditions of Use and Privacy Notice on the PerezHilton.com website expressly provides, “PerezHilton.com respects your privacy and is committed to protecting it at all times.” The website also states that it will not publish email addresses; that an email addresses “will not show” with posted comments; and that, except for limited instances, users “will receive notice when information about you might go to third parties, and you will have an opportunity to choose not to share the information.” The importance of the promise to keep email addresses confidential is magnified by Hilton’s requirement in the Conditions of Use that a user “may not use a false e-mail address” that would allow the user to protect confidential information.
According to the Complaint, after Wargo sent an email challenging Hilton’s opinion, she received derogatory emails with crass language back from PerezHilton.com at her work email address. When those emails kept coming, despite requests to stop, Wargo emailed back with the same type of crass language that is typical of the PerezHilton.com website. Wargo hoped that by using the same type of language, she would get her point across in a way that was typical for PerezHilton.com. Because of the express terms and conditions posted on PerezHilton.com, she knew – or at least thought she knew – that her comments would never be publically attributed to her without her consent.
But, according to the Complaint, Hilton ignored his own Conditions of Use and Privacy Notice, and published not only Wargo’s email without the preceding emails and her full name, but also her work email address that identified the name of her employer and her employer’s website domain name. By doing so, Hilton unleashed his readers on Wargo and her employer. On the same day that Hilton published her private information, hundreds of emails flooded both Wargo’s work email address, as well as those of her supervisors.
In fact, Hilton refused to remove the private information after several users posted that they were going to invade Wargo’s life and get her fired. In the comments to Hilton’s post, post # 116 considered posting her email as intentionally “attempting to ruin her career.” Post # 87, stated: “LOL. I love that you posted the email address. Are you subliminally trying to get your readers to email her? Menorah Park…” At post # 132, “frasia” predicted what would happen when people used the email address to contact her employer: “A whole bunch of us need to call … and get her ass fired.” At Post #248, similarly stated: “Stupid ass people, someone is going to loose (sic) her job ….. reporting her ass to her employer.”
Due only to the adverse publicity, Wargo was indeed fired. Death threats and threats against her two young children followed.
Several users also expressed the same expectation that emails would not be shown when posting in response to the showing of this confidential information. For example, Katie at post #157 wrote: “I thought you didn’t show emails.” At post #63, “Leeeeesa” wrote: “she thought she’d be anonymous.” Indeed, “uh oh” at post #447 wrote: “Your site states clearly that our email addresses ‘will not show on comment’. Yet, you published that girl’s email address for everyone to see. I don’t agree with what the lady said, but Perez … you better be careful. You could get SUED for shit like that when your site clearly states the email address (sic) will NOT SHOW.” Amazingly, Anna at post # 1203, wrote: “He caused her intentional harm – losing a job by purposely posting her e-mail. When was the last time Perez posted someone’s private (work related or not) e-mail on his site? What was the purpose of posting the e-mail address on a gossip site. I’m sure her lawyer can sort it out for her.”
Hilton’s lawyer, Bryan Freedman, disagrees with those who expected privacy, and stated that Hilton can publish any personal information given to him at any time: “Unfortunately for Ms. Wargo, my client’s statement clearly related to the Comments section of his web site only, and thus it did not protect Ms. Wargo’s business email address from disclosure elsewhere on PerezHilton.com. As stated above, my client does not represent that email addresses are confidential in any other section of his web site, but most notably he does not make this representation on his ‘Conditions of Use’ page, where any such representations would normally appear. To be clear, although Mr. Lavandeira did not post Ms. Wargo’s email address in the Comments section, he had every right to use it anywhere else.”
Spitz disagreed. “If that’s what Hilton truly believes, he should have plainly said ‘we will publish user email addresses and personal information as we see fit.’ Instead, Hilton claims to respect his user’s privacy, but only does so when it suits his mood and whims at the time. That’s not what he promised.” Spitz further described Hilton’s argument as a desperate attempt to manipulate his own words to create some kind of legal defense and was not consistent with the clear intent of what was promised in writing.
Spitz also pointed out the contradiction of Hilton’s actions in this case compared to Hilton’s suit against fellow blogger Jonathan Lewandowski, which Hilton filed on April 8, 2008 in the Superior Court of California for the County of Los Angeles. In that case, Hilton primarily claims an invasion into his privacy resulting from the publication of Hilton’s cell phone number.
Spitz added, “On one hand, Hilton voluntarily gives out his phone number to ‘a plethora of sources’ and Jonathan without anyone promising him to keep it private; and then sues when his number is published on a blog. On the other hand, Hilton ignores his own promise to keep certain information private; posts that private information likely knowing that it will get a hard working nurse fired; and then leaves it up after he learns that it has resulted in death threats against her and her children.”
When asked his opinion of Hilton, Spitz responded, “The fact that Hilton left the private information up on his website after Wargo and her children received death threats speaks volumes about him and those that continue to sponsor him. I’d tell you what my opinion is of somebody who does that, but he would probably sue me too.”
Both Wargo and Lewandowski referred all questions to their attorneys, Spitz and John Heffernan, also of The Spitz Law Firm. Although Lewandowski lives in Atlanta, Georgia, he retained Spitz and Heffernan, Cleveland, Ohio attorneys, after a national search because of their experience with these types of claims. Lewandowski, who uses the pseudonym Jonathan Jaxson, is a former publicist for the Backstreet Boys, and now hosts a blog located on the web.
For Further comments, Spitz can be contacted at (216) 291-4744. Additional information can be obtained through CallTheRightAttorney.com.