Realtor Says Dead Animal Story Defamed Her
(CN) - CBS defamed a Philadelphia realtor with a story that falsely accused her of scattering dead animals on a neighbor's property, "based solely on the word of a deranged house sitter and self-appointed 'Gore God,'" the realtor claims in court.
Andrea Straub earned about $500,000 a year selling luxury homes in Philly's Main Line suburb before the story aired on June 26, 2013, according to her complaint in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.
She claims she was fired after local station CBS3 and four employees broadcast the "preposterous and knowingly false story" alleging that she "scattered dead animals and destroyed [her] neighbor's 'for sale' home signs for the sole purpose of gaining an upper hand in competing home sales."
Straub's house next door was also listed at the time.
She claims the accusations came from a "deranged criminal" named Eric Welsch who had been house-sitting the neighbor's home. ("Gore God" is an apparent reference to his Twitter handle, which he uses to showcase his work as a special-effects artist.)
Non-party Welsch allegedly teamed up with defendant Kim Papay, a CBS3 employee "known as the 'crazy blond chick' by CBS3 personnel," to ruin Straub's reputation. Straub says Papay was upset with her over "an interaction they had in approximately April 2013 wherein she was a potential buyer of the home where the Gore God was housesitting."
"Papay's and Welsch's plan to defame Ms. Straub included a trifecta of false claims," the lawsuit states.
"First, Welsch made a bogus complaint to the police about Ms. Straub which was summarily rejected by the Montgomery County District Attorney's office. Papay and Welsch next used edited, secret footage taken by Welsch to claim that Ms. Straub was vandalizing a for-sale sign and placing animal corpses on the adjoining property."
Straub claims Papay then funneled the edited video to CBS3 as an "exclusive."
But the video merely showed a "blurry, yet clearly male figure," according to the lawsuit, and "failed to reveal anything remotely linking Ms. Straub to placing dead animals anywhere."
The only evidence of a dead animal was a small snake caught in a glue trap in some trees, not even on the neighbor's property, Straub claims.
Reporter Walt Hunter called Straub a few hours before the story aired, but the piece had already been finished, she claims. She then immediately contacted her friend at the station, reporter Lesley VanArsdall, according to the lawsuit.
VanArsdall told news director Susan Schiller, anchor Chris May and Hunter that the video was not of Straub, but they ran the story anyway, Straub says. They allegedly explained that they "had" to air it because other stations were running the story without the video.
That same day, Schiller allegedly overheard Papay screaming to someone on her phone that "you sent us the wrong video" and "you promised me that video so I could get us an exclusive."
After Schiller questioned VanArsdall in her office about Straub and Papay's history, VanArsdall texted her realtor friend: "OMG the crazy blond chick in sales may have something to do with this. DO NOT TELL WALT THIS I'll explain."
"VanArsdall was correct; Papay was involved," Straub says.
The story went viral, and Straub lost her lucrative job and about $16 million in listings, according to the lawsuit. She says she also began receiving hate-filled voicemails, emails and letters, and her home, which was under contract, failed to sell.
"In their zeal for an 'exclusive' story, the defendants have destroyed Ms. Straub's reputation [and] her career," the lawsuit states.
Though the realtor claims she has been effectively run out of town, she says CBS3 and its employees "never issued a retraction to correct the damage they had done."
Straub wants CBS Broadcasting Inc., Schiller, Hunter, Papay and May to pay actual and punitive damages for defamation, false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
She also wants to prevent the defendants from destroying any documents or emails that are potentially relevant to her complaint.
Her attorney is James Beasley Jr. in Philadelphia.