A Northern Virginia mom has been sued for allegedly damaging a daycare's reputation after leaving a negative review on the website Yelp.
Rebecca Gonzalez told News4 she wanted to warn other parents about what she said was her bad experience with Horizon Child Development Center, a daycare and school operating in Fairfax, Virginia.
"I felt like it was my responsibility as a mom," Gonzalez explained.
Woman Sued Over Online Comment
Here is a section of Gonzalez's Yelp post about the daycare:
"Please do not send your child to this daycare. The owner of the daycare Sonya (sic) Jackson is extremely mean to children.... My son came home with a bruise (sic) ear.... We do not know what happened when that lady took him to her office ... and we will never know.... I exposed my own child to the physical and verbal abuse of this lady."
"I was shocked, embarrassed, offended," Sonjia Jackson, the owner of Horizon Child Development Center said.
Sonjia's husband Jimmy co-owns the daycare. He says Gonzalez's review has erased 15 years of "hard work and positive steps."
"Even the bank that was considering refinancing my business because I wanted to get a lower interest rate, they called me up and they said, 'Jimmy, have you read this review that's on Yelp?' ... And I said, 'Yes'. And they said, 'Jimmy, you got to get that off of there,'" he explained.
The Jacksons obtained an attorney and requested Gonzalez remove the post. At first, Gonzalez modified her comments, but kept the post up.
"She should be entitled to express her views, even if they're negative, and even if the daycare center doesn't like them," Gonzalez's attorney Lee Berlik said.
When the Jacksons filed suit for $75,000, Gonzalez eventually took down the post, but the lawsuit went forward. The couple's lawyer says Gonzalez' statements were false and made to injure the daycare and its owners.
"You have to be held accountable, especially in this case, when the statements were made for the intent of injuring, damaging, embarrassing and humiliating my client," attorney Dena Roudyboush said.
Court documents filed by Roudybush say Gonzalez was an active parent within the daycare community, until her son allegedly physically assaulted other children and was placed in time out.
Roudybush said at that point, Gonzalez pulled her son from the daycare and a week later, "willfully and maliciously" posted the negative Yelp review. At no point was Gonzalez's son physically or verbally abused by the Horizon Center staff, court documents allege.
On the other hand, Gonzalez's lawyer said his client had a First Amendment right to post the negative review.
"The issue is whether or not somebody writes a negative review like this, if you can get sued. For tens of thousands of dollars or more... we think the answer to that is no," Berlik said.
Court documents filed by Berlik said the review was "insufficient to support a claim for emotional distress."
Both sides will be in court Friday as a judge responds to the defense's motion to dismiss the case.
Last year, a Virginia woman implied in a Yelp review her contractor may have stolen her jewelry. In turn, the contractor sued her for $750,000 and the case is set to go to trial this year.