A FACEBOOK user has been ordered to pay a McDonald’s franchise owner $200,000 with yearly interest of three per cent for comments written on the social media site.
Matthew Winchester’s partner worked at one of the Albury restaurants run by Maree Cables, and wrote defamatory posts on the Everything Albury Wodonga Facebook group in November 2016.
His partner had come home upset before he made the posts.
He did not name Ms Cables or the restaurant, but said he “would like to hear from anyone who has ever had bad experiences with the owner of the local McDonald’s”.
“I would like to hear from you if you have ever been unfairly treated, threatened, abused etc,” he wrote.
“There are a lot of people out there that have been mistreated.”
He later wrote he had “heard many bad things” and had been contacted with “complaints ranging from physical assault to unhygienic food safety”.
The posts continued with a string of further comments from Winchester and other Facebook users, which Ms Cables said had imputations she was dishonest, a horrible person who verbally abused her employees, a “horrid, pathetic person”, a bully and mentally unstable.
One post claimed to have “seen her slap another employer over the head with a chicken wrap” and another said she had seen “the female owner/manager of the Albury store bully threaten and intimidate a young female worker”.
The posts led to McDonald’s head office and the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association becoming involved and a protracted legal dispute between head office and Ms Cables.
McDonald’s sent six representatives to visit her restaurants, which include Albury, East Albury and Lavington, and she said she felt pressured to sell the franchises.
Winchester was not legally represented during proceedings in the Supreme Court and did not file a defence.
Judicial registrar Julie Clayton noted Ms Cables “was accused of crimes, including assault and fraud, as well as very grave allegations of abuse and harassment”.
“Her personality was attacked. Her mental state was impugned,” she said.
“The defamation was sustained over a two to three day period, with additional comments and publications throughout that time.
“There was direct evidence of damage to her professional reputation, in the form of the McDonald’s head office investigation and the protracted legal dealings between Ms Cables and McDonald’s head office.”
Winchester has not apologised and Ms Clayon said there was “a degree of malice in the motivation for the publications".
The posts were removed two days after they were made and it appears the Facebook page was deleted.
“To this day there are snide remarks and snickering amongst employees and a running joke that Ms Cables will lock someone in a stock cage or hit them with a chicken wrap,” Ms Clayton said.
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