US wedding photographer, Andrea Polito, who had her business ruined by a client’s vicious public smear campaign, has been awarded US$1.08 million ($1.4 mil) in damages for defamation.
In 2015 clients Andrew and Neely Moldovan were outraged they had to pay Polito upwards of US$150 for wedding photo album cover, which wasn’t included in the US$4200 package.
The couple had asked for a disk of digital files, but the contract stated it wouldn’t be delivered until the wedding album was finished – which required a cover.
The Moldovans falsely claimed the fee for the cover didn’t appear in the contract and wasn’t mentioned during consultations. They went public with a story riddled with lies to ruin Polito’s business, Andrea Polito Photography (APP).
Neely Moldovan, a social media expert, made 17 online posts in 48 hours to 48,000 followers. She encouraged friends and followers to avoid Polito’s business and spread the word.
Neely also contacted media to garner further attention, and was interviewed by Texas TV news station NBC 5. In the segment she claimed Polito was ‘holding their pictures hostage’ by insisting they pay for an album cover fee which wasn’t in the contract.
Media coverage strongly backed the Moldovans, and the story was picked up by numerous other outlets such as the Daily Mail.
Despite false claims that the photographer ceased communication with the Moldovans, Polito desperately attempted to negotiate with the couple, and even offered to absorb the cost of the album cover prior to the news segment.
But the Moldovans wanted to ‘inflict harm’ by ‘making the story go viral’, according to court documents. Neely Moldovan, who was excited to be in the spotlight, also used the story to draw attention to her social media accounts and build a larger following.
‘We had taken action to make things right, and instead this bride went directly to the media, bragging about the upcoming news story on all of her social media accounts and creating a very large following, which was boosted by her business as a professional social media expert,’ Polito wrote on her blog at the time. ‘If this story were truly based on how upset and hurt she was, she would not post statements to humiliate me or harm my business. Statements like, “I’m pretty sure her business is ruined”, “I hope this goes viral”, “feeling excited”, and “justice has been served” are not the actions of a concerned and hurt bride; they are actions of an individual trying to take someone down and instigate a lynch mob of negativity across the nation’.
Polito’s 13-year old business was finished.
‘On average, over the past nine years, APP historically booked 30 – 40 weddings in January and February, the busiest booking months of the year, and approximately 75 weddings or other events for the entire year,’ Polito’s attorney Dave Wishnew wrote in the lawsuit. ‘APP has only booked two weddings this year – and it is now the end of June.’
Polito’s business historically earned a revenue between US$180,000 to US$240,000 during the first six months of the year. This sunk to around US$38,000 after the smear campaign.
Polito is now rebuilding her business, and is launching a non-profit ‘Surviving After Social Shaming’ (SASS) initiative.