On the surface, it seemed like Jill Colter had a slam-dunk case against a Nissan dealership she had accused of firing her because she had stage 4 cancer. Judges and juries, faced with such a sympathetic plaintiff versus a corporation, tend to favor the afflicted.

But after the case went to trial, a Massachusetts judge not only found in favor of the dealership, she ruled that Colter's brothers had run a defamatory social-media smear campaign against the dealership that resulted in millions in lost business. She awarded Clay Nissan in Norwood, Mass. $1.5 million.

Protestors had picketed the dealership following her firing in June. Her brothers, Adam and Jonathan Colter, helped organize the boycott of the dealership. A dealership depends on a small market areas in the community in which it operates, so the bad publicity was devastating. Colter had been employed for 10 months with the dealership as a service writer when she was fired.

In leading the boycott, her brothers, Adam and Jonathan Colter, contended that the dealership had a history of firing employees with health problems. In court, the brothers could never prove that charge. The judge made that failure to produce the emails a key part of her decision.

"Of great significance to the court, when pressed by counsel for Clay about his assertions that Clay had fired others because they had cancer, Adam Colter insisted that he had received e-mails from other employees of Clay who had informed him that they had been fired by Clay because they had cancer."

Judge Renee Dupuis of Norfolk Superior Court gave the Colter brothers a week to produce the emails, but they never did.

Next up was the issue of proving whether Colter was, indeed, singled out for firing because of her cancer. But employees at the dealership contended that Colter was difficult to work with and pointed to awkward interactions with customers as the reasons behind her dismissal. In a written statement that followed the decision, Clay Nissan said:

"We understand the anger on display about the incredibly emotional topic of the recent firing of an employee who has suffered from cancer. ... The truth of the situation reflects – as you might expect – a much more balanced and human story."


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