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Rumors of Affair Defamed School Official, Court Says

(CN) - School officials defamed a co-worker by spreading a rumor that she had an affair with the superintendent, a Washington appeals court ruled.

Patricia Valdez-Zontek worked for the Eastmont School District as special programs director, starting in 1999.

Two years later, rumors spread that she was having an affair with Superintendent Joel Thaut. They both denied the affair.

The president of the school board investigated and found no evidence that an affair took place. Still, the rumor circulated among school board members and principals.

Valdez-Zontek sued the school board for defamation and related claims, and the trial court ruled in her favor. The jury awarded her $185,000.

Judge Stephen Brown of the Division III Washington Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.

"Mr. Thaut and Ms. Valdez-Zontek consistently denied any affair before trial and at trial. No evidence established the existence of an affair. Considering this record, the rumor alleging the existence of the affair was provably false," Brown wrote.

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