Lawsuit: Fairfield resident accuses town official of defamatory Facebook post

Photo of Serenity Bishop
Laura Karson, of Fairfield

Laura Karson, of Fairfield

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

FAIRFIELD — A Facebook post about racism is at the center of a defamation case in town, according to court documents.

According to the complaint, Jason Gladstone, a town resident, has sued Laura Karson, a member of Fairfield’s Democratic Town Committee and Representative Town Meeting, over a social media post he claims, among other things, included false and defamatory statements regarding him.

Karson filed a special motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing, among other things, she has made an initial showing that Gladstone’s complaint is based on her exercise of her right to free speech, her right to petition the government and her right of association under the constitution in connection with a matter of public concern; that Gladstone’s claims were insufficiently pled; and that Gladstone cannot establish probable cause that he will prevail on any of his claims.

As of Tuesday, Karson’s special motion to dismiss is pending and Gladstone has not yet filed an opposition to the special motion to dismiss.

When reached for comment prior to Karson’s filing of the special motion to dismiss, Karson’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment and Gladstone, a New Canaan attorney, said “all information is in the court documents” and declined to comment further.

The suit stemmed from an email sent from Superintendent Mike Cummings to the Fairfield Public Schools community, according to court documents. According to the special motion to dismiss, Cummings said in the email that “in the wake of national demonstrations and conversations about racism” over the past summer, and with “acts of violence against Asian Americans” on the rise, he was reaffirming Fairfield Public Schools’ commitment to racial awareness and anti-racism.

In the superintendent’s email, which is quoted in Karson’s special motion to dismiss, Cummings expressed the school district’s commitment to raising staff awareness of inherent biases.

“Fairfield Public Schools is committed to continuing to examine our own policies, practices, beliefs, and actions so that we can become aware of the hurt we may cause students, staff, and the community, when we are unmindful of our own inherent biases,” Cummings wrote, as quoted in Karson’s special motion to dismiss.

Gladstone responded to Cummings’ email, copying elected officials like Karson, suggesting the superintendent was out of line for his message.

“I am truly offended that you would insinuate that I am inherently racist or biased within your March 19, 2021 email,” according to the special motion to dismiss.

On March 24, Karson sent an email to Fairfield First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick to garner support for Cummings.

“Throughout the pandemic, Mr. Cummings has demonstrated steady leadership, always putting the best interests of our children first. He is to be commended for dealing with all the challenges COVID-19 has put on our children, teachers, administrators and parents. These are tough times for all of us, but tearing down an educator, accusing him of calling others racists, when in fact he was trying to share his own reflections and ask for everyone in the community to do better, will not lead to a stronger Fairfield,” Karson wrote in the email, which is quoted in the special motion to dismiss.

As quoted in the special motion to dismiss, she also expressed in the email to Kupchick that Gladstone “was outraged that Mr. Cummings insinuated he was inherently racist, which couldn’t be farther from the truth” and “Mr. Gladstone and others on the email chain exhibited ‘white fragility,’ a discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice.”

According to Karson’s special motion to dismiss, in an attempt to gain support for the superintendent, Karson posted a copy of her email to Kupchick in the Facebook group, “Fairfield Standing United,” an advocacy group representing residents of Fairfield and New Haven counties that focus on advocacy of social and political issues on federal, state and local levels.

According to the special motion to dismiss, Gladstone on April 12 sent Karson a letter demanding a full retraction for allegedly defamatory statements in her Facebook post. According to the special motion to dismiss, following receipt of the retraction request, Karson removed her original post and on April 21 posted a retraction.

“I characterized the tone and tenor of Mr. Gladstone’s email as a disrespectful and offensive and suggested that it exhibited white fragility and that he was ‘tearing down an educator.’ I understand that these comments offended Mr. Gladstone and I hereby retract them,” Karson said in her retraction, as quoted in her special motion to dismiss.

According to court documents, Karson was still served with Gladstone’s complaint on May 4.

If the court grants Karson’s special motion to dismiss, she is seeking the cost of attorneys’ fees.

In his affidavit in support of his application for prejudgment remedy, Gladstone claims the allegedly defamatory statements have damaged him financially in the amount of $1 million. Judge Barry Stevens denied the application for prejudgment remedy on May 5.

“As discussed at the conference today, there appears to be insurance coverage for this matter, and the application of a prejudgment attachment is denied without prejudice to reclaim,” the order states.