Former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones won her defamation lawsuit against the gossip website TheDirty.com on Thursday in federal court, winning an award of $338,000.
A jury of eight women and two men took about 10½ hours over two days hour before delivering the unanimous verdict at the federal courthouse.
Jones appeared to be fighting back tears and could be heard whispering towards the jury. The lead attorney for Jones, Eric Deters, who was in another trial when the verdict was announced, tweeted and posted on Facebook the following: “Today. A wise jury. A fair judge. A brave woman. Changed America for the better. This is historic. I am honored to be part of it.”
Jones, 28, sued in 2009 after the website published comments alleging she was promiscuous and had sexually transmitted diseases.
During the first trial in January, jurors were unable to unanimously agree whether the posts about Jones having sex with all the Bengals players and likely having sexually transmitted diseases were substantially false. The Associated Press reported jurors were deadlocked 8-2 in favor of Jones.
Jurors did unanimously agree that Nik Richie, owner of TheDirty.com, did not act with malice when he posted the submissions, the AP reported. That means jurors would not have awarded Jones any money had they all been able to agree that the posts were substantially false.
First Amendment and technology experts began closely watching Jones’ defamation case after U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman ruled the website was not shielded from liability by the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The decision, issued in January 2012, was seen as a departure from numerous other rulings protecting website operators who use material provided to them, known as third-party content.
Bertelsman found that Richie lost protection from the decency act because he commented on posts about her alleged sexual promiscuity.
His defense was that his comments were satire. TheDirty.com attorney David Gingras told jurors that no reasonable person would think Jones slept with the whole team.
The website trial was unrelated to Jones’ sexual relationship with a student when she taught at Dixie Heights High School in Edgewood.
Jones pleaded guilty in October 2012 in state court to misdemeanor sexual misconduct and felony custodial interference and was sentenced to two years in prison. Her plea agreement allows her to avoid any confinement as long as she follows the terms of her probation for five years.
After her plea in the criminal case, Jones walked out of the courtroom at the end of that case holding hands with the student, Cody York. In June, Jones and York, now 18, announced on social media sites that they were engaged to be married.