People Magazine could go to trial for misidentifying an entrepreneur as the mistress of a Google co-founder, based on an April 3 court decision.
The Time Inc. publication failed to convince a judge to throw out a defamation lawsuit that centers on a 2013 article called "Billion-dollar breakup? Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife split amid reports that he's been searching for love on staff."
That "love on staff"—alleged mistress and Google staffer Amanda Rosenberg—was supposed to be pictured below the headline.
Instead, People used a photo of entrepreneur Nathalie de Clercq, co-founder of Wiplabs Designs, a start-up that designs and sells accessories like docking stations and chargers, according to the company website. The People article shows De Clercq wearing Google Glass—an item Rosenberg also wore in her role as Google Glass's marketing manager, according to court filings.
In a motion to dismiss the case, Time Inc. argued the depiction of dating or romance (or "a web of intrigue" and "love triangle" as People put it) does not "impute unchastity or sexual misconduct." De Clercq, on the other hand, showed text messages from friends that described her as a "home wrecker," according to the April filing in New York state court.
In response, the judge wrote: "The juxtaposition of De Clercq's photograph along with the commentary describing her as Rosenberg, the alleged paramour of a married man causing a marriage to break up, (arguably) exposes De Clercq to public contempt for unchaste behavior."
According to De Clercq's complaint, People got the image of De Clercq from Splash News & Picture agency. The summons states that De Clercq will demand a total of $4 million, plus legal fees, if she wins her defamation suit.
"We felt our complaint complied with the law," said Jeffrey Eilender, De Clercq's lawyer. "A reasonable reader would read this and think, Amanda Rosenberg slept her way to the top—she was a home-wrecker—and unfortunately, my client is imputed to that."
Time Inc.'s lawyer, Jeffrey Loop, declined to comment. Eilender said he hopes Time will present a "reasonable offer" to settle the case, though he said he believes it will move forward in court.