A law lecturer has been ordered to pay £22,500 to a former colleague after sharing confidential information that was later made public on social media.

Legal academic and non-practising solicitor James Wilson brought a claim against James Mendelsohn, a former solicitor, after the defendant informed a friend about incidents that occurred when they worked together at the University of Huddersfield.

University of Huddersfield

Source: Alamy 

The recipient of the information, who has since died, then publicly referred to it on Twitter, prompting Wilson to make a claim against Mendelsohn for misuse of private information.

At the same time, Mendelsohn supplied his friend with a screenshot of a Facebook post from a woman who had an altercation with Wilson outside a primary school where they both sent their children. This post, which made a number of highly derogatory and unsubstantiated allegations about Wilson, was taken down after a day. But after the screenshot was passed on, it was posted on Twitter and shared by another individual, Edward Cantor.

In Wilson v Mendelsohn & Ors, His Honour Richard Parkes KC, sitting as a High Court judge, awarded Wilson £22,500 damages against Mendelsohn for the disclosure of the university information and for the republication of the Facebook post. The judge also awarded £7,500 against Mendelsohn and Canter as joint tortfeasors for the latter’s retweeting of the screenshot.

The judge said the case involved clever and principled people with strong views on politics and demonstrated the ‘profoundly toxic potential of the ill-considered and ill-tempered use of social media’.

Mendelsohn, now a senior lecturer at the University of the West of England, accepted having told his friend that Wilson had bullied and harassed someone at Huddersfield.

There had been an investigation into Wilson in 2009 but only one complaint was upheld relating to a dispute over whether staff should join a strike action, where his behaviour was interpreted as being aggressive. Every other allegation was not upheld and the outcome was not shared with any non-parties.

Mendelsohn submitted that he shared the confidential information years later with his friend only because he was being sued by Wilson and needed to know who he was dealing with.

The judge found that information disclosed was private and had the potential to cause Wilson real damage.

On the sharing and subsequent republication of the Facebook post, the judge said Wilson will have found this ‘unpleasant and offensive’. Wilson did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy for the Facebook post or screenshot but the publication did cause or was likely to cause serious harm to his reputation. The judge found that Mendelsohn was liable for republication of the screenshot on Twitter and for Cantor’s retweeting of it.