Attorneys for a woman suing convicted gay basher Kathryn Knott recently submitted hundreds of Internet posts made under the pseudonym “Knotty is a Tramp.”
The filing came July 31 in a federal suit filed by Norristown resident Kathleen O’Donnell, who claims she was unjustly terminated from her job for posting online comments using the moniker.
Knott, along with Philip Williams and Kevin Harrigan, was arrested in 2014 in connection to a physical and verbal attack on a gay couple. She rejected a plea deal and was found guilty of four misdemeanors, serving five months in prison.
O’Donnell created the account on Disqus.com, an online-commenting tool, and posted under it, using a photo of Knott from her social-media profile, on local news sites. According to court filings, Knott was notified of the account and reported it to Bucks County Police; detectives came to O’Donnell’s workplace to investigate the report, and she was terminated shortly after.
O’Donnell filed suit in April 2016, alleging her free-speech rights were violated by Knott, her father — a former Bucks County police officer — Bucks County, its district attorney and two detectives. She is seeking punitive damages of at least $5 million, as well as compensatory damages of at least $150,000.
On July 25, Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg ordered O’Donnell to submit all of the comments she made under the “Knotty is a Tramp” account.
In a 54-page exhibit, O’Donnell’s attorney, Sean Ruppert, submitted more than 400 comments she posted between September 2014 and June 2015. The posts were made from two separate IP addresses, which, according to court filings, were O’Donnell’s home and work computers.
Comments were posted to a number of 6ABC stories, including about local crime news and national politics.
O’Donnell’s posts included remarks seemingly written from the point of view of Knott, such as:
“… my chief of police father”
“I brutally beat up two guys with my mob of 12.”
“I don’t know what drove me to my crimes except a good life and plenty of alcohol.”
“You’re a bigot and so am I.”
“Yeah that’s why I’m in trouble. Didn’t look like what you call the usual suspect, but video and my postings on Twitter got me caught.”
“Didn’t you see my mugshot in Philadelphia. I look good in my pink hoodie. So not looking forward to wearing orange.”
“I’m an entitled princess who does not deserve to be charged with the beatdown of some gay guys.”
An accompanying exhibit contains the transcript of a January 2016 appeal hearing after O’Donnell was denied unemployment compensation following her termination.
In the transcript, O’Donnell contended she created the account to bring light to the gay-bashing case.
“People were saying that [Knott] was … OK in beating them up. And I was basically communicating that that wasn’t right,” she said.
She went on to note the account “was a … parody of her. I wasn’t trying to post as her.”
However, Jim Pudleiner, vice president and managing principal at Walker Parking, O’Donnell’s former employer, characterized O’Donnell’s posts as harassment.
“I have a hard time understanding how harassing someone online, using a work computer, does not fall under being discharged for the result of non-work-related conduct and/or suspension of work for willful misconduct,” Pudleiner said. “I’m disappointed as a taxpayer in the state of Pennsylvania, as well as an employer, that this has even gotten this far, and the irresponsible use of resource to allow it to get this far.”
During the hearing, O’Donnell noted any online commenting done during work was on lunch or other breaks; however, Pudleiner contended the timeframe was irrelevant, “if she was using a Walker computer to send out harassing posts.”
According to the unemployment-hearing transcript, Detective Mark Zielinski said he and Detective Martin McDonough visited Walker Aug. 6, 2015. Zielinski said they met with Pudleiner privately and then asked O’Donnell to join the meeting in Walker’s conference room. He recalled O’Donnell said she would stop using the account and told Pudleiner, “If you want me to leave, I’ll pack my staff right now.” According to Zielinski, Pudleiner said he needed time to consider the situation. She was terminated shortly after.
O’Donnell is seeking a jury trial.
Knott, Williams and Harrigan also face a civil suit from the gay-bashing victims, Andrew Haught and Zachary Hesse. A settlement conference in that case is scheduled for Sept. 13; a jury trial is tentatively scheduled for December.