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Former teacher Karen Clemons loses defamation case

Karen Clemons, former teacher at CedarBridge Academy. (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A judge has thrown out allegations by a former teacher that she was defamed by the Ministry of Education through a series of documents left on her personnel file.

Karen Clemons had argued in the Supreme Court that five documents had been maliciously placed on her file, causing damage to her reputation.

However, yesterday, Puisne Judge Larry Mussenden ordered a jury to rule that the five counts of defamation had not been proven.

While Mr Justice Mussenden said that he would detail his decision in a written ruling, he told the parties that the rule of qualified privilege applied to all the documents, which meant that Ms Clemons had to prove malice.

He added that he had found there was no evidence of malice in the case.

Ms Clemons had told the court that she began to work as an IT teacher at CedarBridge Academy in 2000, but later discovered that a series of documents had been added to her file without her knowledge and without her having an opportunity to respond to their contents.

While she accepted that the documents were not available to the wider public, she claimed that their placement on her file was done maliciously to harm her reputation.

Ms Clemons also said the inclusion of the documents in her file contradicted a collective-bargaining agreement between the Government and the Bermuda Union of Teachers.

She noted that the copy of one document that she received was three pages long, while the copy she found on her file was seven pages long with handwritten notes from Kalmar Richards, the former principal of CedarBridge who is the Commissioner of Education.

The court heard that Ms Clemons had gone through the grievance procedure, which resulted in a 2007 order that documents she had not been aware of be purged from her file.

The tribunal also found that there was no evidence of misconduct by Ms Richards and declined to order that she add an apology to Ms Clemons’s record.

However, in an application made yesterday, Brian Moodie, from the Attorney-General’s Chambers, argued that the evidence before the court was not enough make a finding of defamation.

He pointed out that Ms Clemons had admitted that administrators had a right to take notes, adding: “We believe that statement amounts to an admission that the defence of qualified privilege attaches to each piece of correspondence she complains of.”

Mr Moodie said it was a “document created in the course of an employer-employee relationship, made by supervisors who have a duty to make these statements”.

He said that in Ms Clemons’s evidence there was “not a scintilla that any of the authors bore malice”, adding: “We are saying that she has not even alleged malice.”

It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.