Will Val Chmerkovskiy be able to waltz his way out of the fallout from the massive social media mistake that he made earlier this month?
The Dancing with the Stars pro, who is known for ripping off his shirt and showing off his abs, is under fire for publicly humiliating an overweight little girl with Down syndrome, and now he’s being sued by the girl’s family. According to TMZ, Val Chmerkovskiy was trying to shame parents who allow their kids to become obese when he shared an internet meme that shows a little girl with Down syndrome sipping on a drink at a baseball game.
“Letting your kid become obese should be considered child abuse,” the caption on the meme reads.
— WKRN (@WKRN) January 14, 2016
WKRN News 2 reports that Val Chmerkovskiy shared the meme on his Facebook page, and he told his fans that he agrees with its message.
“I am truly sorry for the lack of sensitivity… but on some level I have to agree,” Val wrote. “Raising a child is the hardest thing in the world, I know, but being negligent when it comes to their nutrition is a crime. The lifelong obstacles and health issues you place on your child because of it can be devastating moving forward in their life. You’re handicapping your kid, and they’re defenseless, they don’t know better, that’s why you’re there… anyway I’m just a childless preacher, but here’s some food for thought. #nopunintended.”
The Dancing with the Stars pro also posted the meme on Instagram, and he shared a link to his Instagram post on his Twitter page. Chmerkovskiy has deleted all of the social media posts that reference the meme except for the tweet, and a few of his Twitter followers actually responded to him by letting him know that they agree with his sentiments. However, others criticized Val’s actions and pointed out that he could have easily made his point without including the meme that he’s now being sued over. Many critics called Val Chmerkovskiy out for potentially humiliating the little girl in the picture, and others pointed out that he doesn’t know the full story behind the girl and her family—sometimes weight gain can be caused by certain medications or medical conditions. A few of Val’s Twitter followers even accused him of cyber bullying the girl.
“Cyber bullying is not ok and this post is a form of it with the pic you included,” Carla Moreira wrote. “So disappointed.”
It was later revealed that the girl in the photo has Down Syndrome, and her family claimed that she was humiliated by the photo. The girl’s older sister first saw the meme on Facebook, and she told WKRN that it made her “sick.” The little girl’s mother sent several emails to Val Chmerkovskiy asking him to take the picture down, and she told WKRN that she believed that the actions of the Dancing with the Stars pro constitute bullying.
According to Gossip Cop, the girl’s family has decided to sue Val Chmerkovskiy for $6 million. They allege that his actions have caused the girl emotional distress, and they’re accusing him of defamation and invasion of privacy. The family is also suing CBS News for $6 million because it posted the meme.
In their lawsuit, the girl’s family informs Val Chmerkovskiy that they are not to blame for the her obesity—many people with Down Syndrome struggle with their weight. As Fox News reports, they often suffer from under-active thyroids, and they burn calories at a slower rate.
Val Chmerkovskiy probably should have learned a thing or two about the consequences of what you post online from his former Dancing with the Stars partner, Rumer Willis. Val and Rumer won Season 20 of the show, and Rumer used her DWTS journey to talk about her painful experiences with cyberbullying. During an interview with the Boston Herald, Rumer Willis pointed out that social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram have made it easy for internet users to cause others misery, and she talked about how painful it was for her to read critical comments about her looks online. Perhaps Rumer Willis should gently inform her old DWTS partner that he’s caused a young girl similar pain by sharing a meme that criticizes the way her body looks.
— Us Weekly (@usweekly) May 22, 2015
Instead of apologizing to the little girl, Val Chmerkovskiy is seemingly trying to turn things around on her family.
“Just scroll beyond the ‘juicy story’ and you’ll see exactly the type of person I am,” Val recently tweeted. “And how absurd this story is. At this point I’m startin to think it isn’t about her at all. And that’s unfortunate. That’s the real problem here.”
Many of his Twitter followers have responded to his words by saying that they agree with him, and they’re accusing the girl’s parents of looking for a payday. However, it might be difficult for them to get it—a lawyer told WKRN that a person’s likeness is only protected by the law if it’s used for a commercial purpose. According to the Mighty, a Tennessee man with Down syndrome did win a 2013 lawsuit against a Flickr user and a meme generator website that turned his likeness into a viral meme. However, his settlement was $150,000, not anywhere close to the $6 million Val is being asked to fork over.
Do you think Val Chmerkovskiy should have to pay up?
[Photo by Sergi Alexander/Getty Images]