Man sued for defamation over a missing apostrophe in a Facebook post

The New York Times reports that an Australian man has gotten himself into a potential legal fire because of grammatically sloppy Facebook rant:

In the post last year, Anthony Zadravic, the agent, appears to accuse Stuart Gan, his former employer at a real estate agency, of not paying retirement funds to all the agency's workers.

At issue is the word "employees" in the post, which read: "Oh Stuart Gan!! Selling multi million $ homes in Pearl Beach but can't pay his employees superannuation," referring to Australia's retirement system, in which money is paid by employers into super accounts for employees. "Shame on you Stuart!!! 2 yrs and still waiting!!!"

Naturally, Zadravic's former employer sued him for defamation, because:

A judge in New South Wales ruled that the lack of an apostrophe on the word "employees" could be read to suggest a "systematic pattern of conduct" by Mr. Gan's agency rather than an accusation involving one employee.


The judge, Judith Gibson, wrote in her statement: "​​The difficulty for the plaintiff is the use of the word 'employees' in the plural. To fail to pay one employee's superannuation entitlement might be seen as unfortunate; to fail to pay some or all of them looks deliberate."

If Mr. Zadravic loses the case, it could cost him $180,000. And no, that comma is not a mistake.

Missing Apostrophe in Facebook Post Lands a Man in Defamation Court [Livia Albeck-Ripka / New York Times]

Image: Jeffrey Beall / Flickr (CC-BY-ND 2.0)

Full disclosure: I also write for Wirecutter, which is part of the New York Times Company, which also owns The New York Times.