Girl With Down Syndrome Sues ‘Dancing With The Stars’ Celebrity
The family of a girl with Down syndrome is seeking millions from a “Dancing with the Stars” cast member after he allegedly shared a misappropriated photo and defamed her on social media.
Stephanie Mitchell filed a federal lawsuit late last week against Valentin Chmerkovskiy – known for his role as a professional dancer on the ABC ballroom dance competition – as well as a photographer and CBS Corporation. The suit accuses the three of misappropriating and widely sharing a photo of her daughter who has Down syndrome.
The image of the girl, which shows the then 8-year-old sipping a drink, was taken without her knowledge by Michael Smail at a 2008 baseball game in Nashville, Tenn., according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.
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Smail then allegedly posted the photo to Flickr under the heading “everything that’s wrong with America.” It was later published on cbsnews.com with the word “BUSTED,” the lawsuit states.
Most recently, Chmerkovskiy shared the photo on Facebook in January with the words “letting your kid become obese should be considered child abuse.” Subsequently, the image “has gone viral to more than a quarter million followers,” the suit indicates.
When the Mitchells found the picture on Chmerkovskiy’s Facebook page, Stephanie Mitchell sent several emails to the Ukranian dancer asking him to remove the image of her daughter, but according to the lawsuit, he did not respond.
The family is now seeking $6 million in damages from Chmerkovskiy, $6 million from CBS and $600,000 from Smail.
“The right to free expression is not a license to inflict injury and humiliation on an innocent and defenseless child or adult with Down syndrome,” said Larry Crain, an attorney who is representing the Mitchell family. “This has had a life-changing impact on this young lady and her family, and it is time something is done to hold those accountable who use the image and likeness of others to promote their own cause or celebrity.”
Crain previously represented another Tennessee family in a similar case involving a man with Down syndrome whose image was misappropriated on the Internet. In November, a jury awarded that family $150,000.
Representatives from “Dancing with the Stars” did not respond to requests for comment.
In a statement to Disability Scoop, CBS News said, “although we have not yet been served a copy of the complaint, we have removed the photo in question from a gallery that was published in 2011.”