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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Mother Blames TV Dancer for Viral Meme

NASHVILLE (CN) - A "Dancing with the Stars" pro posted a distasteful meme of a young girl with Down syndrome and it went viral, the girl's mother claims in court.

Stephanie Mitchell says she took her then-8-year-old daughter to a Nashville Sounds minor league baseball game in June 2008.

Her daughter, who suffers from Down syndrome, was standing near the concession stand when Michael Smail took an unauthorized photo of the girl, according to a lawsuit Mitchell filed against Smail, Valentin Chmerkovskiy and CBS Corp.

Chmerkovskiy "is a celebrity Ukrainian professional dancer" known for his regular appearances on the TV show "Dancing with the Stars," the complaint states.

Smail allegedly posted the girl's photo on his Flickr account in 2008 with the headline, "Everything that's wrong with America."

Six years later, a meme with Smail's photo was posted to the CBS News website with the derogatory statement "Busted," according to Mitchell's lawsuit.

Then, on Jan. 11, 2016, Chmerkovskiy allegedly posted the meme on his Facebook page with the caption, "Letting your kid become obese should be considered child abuse."

Mitchell alleges the dancer added comment to his post, saying, "You're handicapping your kid, and they're defenseless. They don't know better, that's why you're there."

The girl's older sister eventually discovered the picture online. Chmerkovskiy has not responded to Mitchell's requests to take the picture down, the mother claims.

"Since the defendant Chmerkovskiy posted the plaintiff's photograph to his Facebook account, this image of the plaintiff has gone viral to more than a quarter million followers, comparing the plaintiff's physical disability and weight to child abuse," the Jan. 29 lawsuit states.

Mitchell says the photos and memes "were intentional, deliberate and malicious." She seeks $12.6 million including punitive damages for invasion of privacy, misappropriation, infliction of emotional distress and defamation.

The mother also wants pictures of her daughter taken down. She is represented by Larry Crain of Crain, Schuette & Associates in Brentwood, Tenn.

After the lawsuit was filed, Chmerkovskiy posted another meme on his Facebook page that said, "Worry about your character, not your reputation. Your character is who you are. Your reputation is who people think you are."

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