Oprah Must Defend Against Defamation Claims: Judge

The case is now set for trial on March 29 in Philadelphia

Tuesday, Mar 16, 2010  |  Updated 3:44 PM CDT
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A U.S. judge says Oprah Winfrey must defend a defamation suit in a Philadelphia court lodged by an ex-headmistress at her girl's school in South Africa.

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Judge Eduardo Robreno refused Monday to dismiss a law suit against Oprah Winfrey brought by a headmistress for the school she supports in South Africa

He ruled that former headmistress Nomvuyo Mzamane has enough evidence to pursue her defamation claims against the media mogul. Winfrey made the remarks in 2007 after the complaints surfaced at the $40 million Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, near Johannesburg.

A dorm matron who worked under Mzamane was later charged with abusing six students.

Mzamane accused Winfrey of suggesting she was not trustworthy through comments about the need for new leadership and remarks such as "I thought she cared about the girls of South Africa," according to the October 2008 lawsuit.

Winfrey's lawyers argued the remarks, made at an Oct. 20, 2007 meeting with parents and at a Nov. 5, 2007 press conference, reflected Winfrey's opinions.

But the judge agreed they were potentially defamatory.

"The implication that (Mzamane) was aware of abuse by the dorm parents and did not react accordingly is capable of defamatory meaning as it ascribes conduct which would render her unfit for her profession as an educator," Robreno wrote in the 128-page opinion.

Winfrey's lawyer, William Hangley, declined comment Tuesday on the judge's decision.

Mzamane's lawyer did not immediately return a call for comment.

Mzamane, a native of Lesotho, previously held a leadership post at the Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia and returned to the area after her contract was not renewed at Winfrey's school. Mzamane has said she was unable to find work because of Winfrey's comments.

The case is now set for trial on March 29 in Philadelphia.

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