Jury Awards $150K After Man With Down Syndrome Mocked Online
A federal jury has awarded a man with Down syndrome $150,000 after a photograph of him was doctored and misappropriated on the Internet.
In what’s believed to be a first-of-its-kind case, Pamela and Bernard Holland of Nashville, Tenn. sued in 2013 after finding numerous instances of their son’s photo altered and reposted online.
The image was taken in 2004 when Adam Holland, who has Down syndrome, was 17 and attended an art class at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, which serves people with developmental disabilities. The photo shows Holland smiling and holding up a piece of paper with a drawing that reads “Go Titans.”
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Online, however, users removed Holland’s drawing, replacing it with other messages. In one case, a Tampa, Fla. radio station owned by Cox Media Group posted the photo with the words “Retarded News” inserted on the piece of paper Holland holds. Separately, a website called Sign Generator allegedly offered users the opportunity to download a version of the image for a fee under the heading “Retarded Handicap Generator.”
The Hollands also alleged in their suit that a Minnesota man posted the image on Flickr with the words “I got a boner” in place of their son’s drawing.
This week, a federal jury in Nashville sided with the Hollands, ordering Gigahertz Inc., which owns the Sign Generator website, and the Flickr user, Russell LaLevee, to collectively pay $150,000. Cox Media Group settled with the Hollands before the case went to trial.
“This case is precedent setting,” Sara Hart Weir, president of the National Down Syndrome Society, said in a statement. “All people with Down syndrome are valued members of society and deserve to be treated with the upmost dignity and respect. We commend the Hollands for their courageous advocacy and for standing up for all families by pursuing this case.”