Judge green-lights retaliation suit involving Kathryn Knott

A Norristown woman can proceed with her federal lawsuit against Kathryn Knott, her father and several other defendants, a judge ruled earlier this month.

The Oct. 6 order from Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg came in the case of Kathleen O’Donnell, who contends she was unjustly terminated after posting online comments under the pseudonym “Knotty is a Tramp.”

Knott, along with Philip Williams and Kevin Harrigan, was arrested in 2014 in connection to a physical and verbal attack on a gay couple. Knott 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. 

At the time, Knott’s father was chief of police in Chalfont; he is now a captain in the Central Bucks Regional Police Department.

O’Donnell subsequently filed suit against the Knotts and several detectives involved in the case, whom she contends conspired to retaliate against her and violate her free-speech rights.

The Knotts argued that Knott followed protocol to report someone whom they said was impersonating her; however, Goldberg contended that O’Donnell’s postings — in which she used a first-person narrative to make unflattering statements about Knott — could not reasonably be construed to be Knott speaking about herself and may be legally protected free speech. 

Goldberg refused to dismiss claims against the Knotts and the detectives but did dismiss Bucks County as a defendant. 

Knott, Williams and Harrigan are also facing a civil suit from the victims in the gay-bashing incident.