St. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Tampa Bay radio show host Mike "Cowhead" Calta is at the center of a multi-million dollar lawsuit out of Tennessee.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Adam Holland by his parents, Pamela and Bernard Holland, claims the Cowhead radio show inflicted severe mental anguish on the Holland family by using Adam's photo on their website.
Adam, who has Down Syndrome, is seen in the original picture holding up art work in his Nashville class. It reads, "Go Titans." The Cowhead show altered the photo using a word that is used to disparage people with disabilities.
"[We] have worked very hard to stop people from using the 'r' word," explained Lise Fox. "The use of this word perpetuates stereotypes. It's painful. It's hurtful."
Fox directs the Florida Center for Inclusive Communities which aims to make life easier for people with disabilities.
She believes Cowhead's use of the photo makes life harder for her clients, and so does the lawsuit now facing ownership company Cox Media Group.
"He's a typical radio shock jock competing with other radio shock jocks," explained defense attorney Joe Episcopo.
According to Episcopo, the case may be difficult to win, if the show is protected by the First Amendment.
In an e-mail included in the lawsuit, WHPT-FM Program Director Michael Sharkey is quoted as "Cowhead's boss." He explains that the particular segment associated with the picture is about "odd stories that are seemingly always in the news."
"We have removed that picture from our page and we are removing any reference to handicapped or disabled individuals."
Holland's parents want $6 million for economic damages for the suffering they've endured. For Episcopo, proving financial loss due to the picture will be the most difficult part of the case to win.
"To us ordinary citizens, defamation, what does that mean? It means nothing. We have no loss. You have to have a financial loss to bring a lawsuit," Episcopo said.
In this case, though, Fox believes the greatest loss may not be financial but rather how the picture sets back work like theirs, reflected by the original picture, where Adam smiles in art class, proud and unashamed.
"To be independent, to be productive, to be valued, and to be included," Fox said.
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