One of the most chilling aspects of the #metoo movement is a survivor's exposure to defamation claims if they choose to share their story in public. Wendy Dent choose to share her story about Don Burke asking her to audition topless. He denied the allegations of sexual misconduct during an interview on "A Current Affair", labelling them a 'witch hunt'.
Now, in other cases, this might be the point where Don Burke would sue in defamation (a la Craig MacLachlan.) But he didn't. Instead, Wendy Dent sued him for defamation, essentially for calling her a liar and saying that she fabricated her story as part of the so-called 'witch hunt'.
This turns the problems with #metoo and defamations actions on their head. In Craig MacLachlan's case, and even Geoffrey Rush's case, the (alleged) survivors ended up being the ones on trial, having to prove the truth of their experience. In this case though, Don Burke would have had to prove the truth of his denials.
Wendy Dent's claim was dismissed last week. But the decision gives her some vindication, and most definitely leaves the door open for similar claims in future.
In disposing of the claim, the judge said that the defamation didn't arise. Rather, any reasonable person watching the interview would conclude that there were credible allegations against Don Burke by a number of women, including Wendy Dent. People wouldn't conclude that she was a liar or part of a witch hunt. So, no defamation.
Although the claim failed, Wendy Dent got an authoritative assessment of her story's credibility. Which is pretty much the same end point she'd have reached had she won.
The case absolutely leaves open the door for more claims like this. The decision turned particularly on the facts and impression of the whole "A Current Affair" story. It doesn't rule out this kind of claim in any broader sense. And that means the case is a win for the whole #metoo movement.
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