Principal Sues Parents For Online Defamation

A CASE STUDY: Tracey Brose, Principal of Tamborine Mountain High School

We have previously written to you about Defamation and protecting your reputation in the school setting. To read more about defamation see our previous issues – Guide for School Leaders and Defamation and School Publications. 

A recent decision of the District Court of Queensland has offered a further helpful example for school leaders positively protecting their rights and reputation against unfavourable treatment by parents. The decision also highlights the dangers of posting online to public forums, offering a reminder of things to be wary of when publishing material online.

The facts:
  • Principal Tracey Brose was briefly suspended from her job in 2016 on full pay following a complaint that was later dismissed
  • During the suspension a petition was created by parents to have her reinstated. The petitions were available on Facebook and
  • Comments were posted to the Facebook page by parents of students at the school, many of which showed support for Ms Bose, but other comments were very negative, threatening and spoke ill of her
  • Ms Brose was reinstated a couple of months after being suspended
  • Eight parents were sued for defamation of their comments
What did the comments say?

Ms Brose was “evil” and someone who “mistreats lower-performing children”.

“About time something is done about this evil, nasty, horrible women (SIC)”

“She makes my blood boil and bought (SIC) so much pain and stress upon our family and many others. All because our kids aren’t “A” students which will affect her overall school ratings”.

“She thinks she is investigator, judge, jury and executioner and not a good one at that,”

“She is not interested in the kids that don’t fit the norm of education only high achievers. The only skill she had learnt in the last 16 years is the gift of the gag. Good riddens (SIC).”

  • Judge Catherine Muir handed down her decision in the Southport District Court finding that the comments were defamatory and ordered parents Donna and Miguel Baluskas to pay $3000 each in damages to Ms Brose
  • Mr Baluskas was also restrained from making any further posts or comments substantially to the same effect as those complained of
  • The case against two other parents was dismissed
  • Three other parents chose to settle their case out of Court and paid damages to Ms Brose
From this case:
  • As a school principal you have a reputation worthy of protection under the law and there is a growing recognition of the impacts that such defamatory comments can have
  • Bringing a successful action for Defamation in Australia is notoriously hard, however, the growing ease of publication to social media sites is creating more instances of defamation which can be successfully sued for
  • Is this the line in the sand we’ve been waiting for to protect principals and teachers?
How can Brennan Law Partners assist?

If you have any concerns about defamation or protecting your reputation, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. Defamation must be handled correctly from the start to ensure maximum protection. Keeping proper records of offending behaviour and devising appropriate strategies from the outset is crucial.

Limitation periods for defamation action are also short (1 year from publication) so any action must occur quickly. If you have a potential defamation issue, have a question or want to discuss your policies for managing social platforms, we encourage you to contact us.

If you have any questions regarding any information in this BLP Brief, we welcome you to contact us at any time.

This is meant as a guide only and should not be taken as legal advice.

Question? Comment? We’re here to help so talk to us!