It’s true. Anyone can sue anyone for anything at any time. Even if they are on the wrong side of the truth. And in this case, Melissa Dumas has suffered “emotional distress” because a television reporter accurately said that she was convicted of prostitution.
The Facts: In 2005, Melissa Kiane Dumas was arrested and charged with Prostitution-Sexual Gratification, a violation of state statute 944.30(2). Dumas pleaded guilty on September 28, 2005, admitting she committed the crime. It was a misdemeanor, and she was ordered to pay a fine of $125 plus court costs and go on her merry way.
In April 2012, Robert Koebel reported for WTMJ-4 that Melissa Dumas was a bus driver for Milwaukee Public Schools. The company employing Melissa Dumas, Durham Bus Services, told the television reporter that she did not discloses her conviction on her application for employment. They also said the conviction did not appear on a criminal background check that was performed.
Dumas was fired from her job. And now she is suing Koebel and WTMJ-4 for intentional interference with a contractual relationship, intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy-publication of a private matter.
According to an interview by Courthouse News Service:
Dumas says in her complaint that she was a “victim of ‘ambush journalism.'”
She claims Koebel and his station “unnecessarily and unreasonably revealed background information” about her, including the 7-year-old misdemeanor prostitution conviction.
Dumas says in her complaint that Koebel took extreme steps “only intended to unnecessarily sensationalize an otherwise un-newsworthy story.”
She claims Koebel followed a bus she was driving “in such a manner as to interfere with the safe operation of the bus and its occupants.” And she claims he contacted the manager of the bus company to personally advise the manager that Dumas was a convicted prostitute.
Dumas says in her complaint that the bus company, Durham School Services, had her fill out an application that “specifically requested in writing to only reveal past felony convictions and exclude misdemeanors.”
Her 7-year-old prostitution conviction is a misdemeanor and does not “threaten the safety of the children,” Dumas says in her complaint.
Dumas seeks damages for intentional interference with contract, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Schulz said a psychotherapist diagnosed his client with post-traumatic stress disorder and that she fears going out in public because she is afraid of being recognized.
She is exhibiting “significant distress resulting in impairments in social and other important functions,” Schulz said, reading from the psychotherapist’s report.
Dumas does not allege defamation. Court records confirm the 2005 misdemeanor conviction.
She says in the complaint: “Reasonable investigative journalism does not include ambushing an unofficial individual not guilty of any wrongdoing.”
I might suggest to Dumas and her attorney that she was guilty of wrongdoing: prostitution. The bus company and MPS apparently think that the conviction for prostitution is an issue, as Dumas was fired after the conviction was revealed.
So what is wrong with the television reporter accurately reporting Dumas’s conviction and employment as a bus driver? For telling the truth about a public arrest and conviction record, the reporter and TV station are being sued for hurting Dumas’s feelings? And invading her privacy? There is no privacy given to criminal records.
Do you suppose this is simply a shakedown? That Dumas and her attorney Richard Schulz are hoping for a quick little settlement from WTMJ-4 because its insurance carrier would rather cut a relatively small check for “damages,” than have to pay the legal fees to fight this? I hope the station and their insurer stand up to this and refuse to settle. The lawsuit is frivolous and the plaintiff and her attorney deserve absolutely nothing. It appears that the truth was reported, and as such, I don’t think Melissa Dumas is entitled to anything.
Although if Melissa Dumas was hoping that her conviction for prostitution was going to stay quiet, it seems that a lawsuit like this guarantees exactly the opposite.