A real-life bridezilla publicly trashed her wedding photographer’s reputation over a $125 fee that made her furious. That was a big mistake. A jury decided to make her and her groom pay so much more after what the couple did, giving the photographer the last laugh.
Andrea Polito, the owner of a successful and respected professional photography business, had no idea her livelihood would be destroyed when she was hired as a wedding photographer by Neely Moldovan, a full-time beauty blogger. As Andrea completed Neely Moldovan’s engagement, rehearsal, and wedding shoots, she almost prophetically warned her studio manager: “She’s a blogger. Make sure everything looks perfect.” Sadly, one complaint led to a smear campaign of astronomical proportions.
When Neely Moldovan and the love of her life, Andrew, tied the knot in Dallas, Texas, Andrea thought everything had gone very well. The ceremony was perfect, as were the photos. The studio sent the couple proofs, and Neely “posted those all over social media,” according to Andrea, who felt the bride and groom were pleased. Three months later, however, she realized how wrong she was when Neely began emailing her to ask for the high-resolution photos.
The couple was reminded that, per their signed contract, the photos wouldn’t be released until the album was complete. That couldn’t be done until the couple submitted an order form and selected a cover photo, which they had not done. Several weeks of back and forth ensued as the couple refused to pay the $125 fee for the album cover that was outlined in the contract, welcome letter, and many emails.
Finally, Andrea planned to absorb the cost to satisfy her customers, but that wasn’t good enough for the Moldovans. Andrew and Neely had already decided to go public with their complaints against Andrea’s photography company. Claiming that Andrea Polito was demanding an extra $150 fee on top of the thousands they’d already paid, the Moldovans emailed reporters and began promoting a looming news story to their online fans. NBC took the bait.
Although Andrea sent the reporter a page-long email that included information about the contract and items the Moldovans had yet to pay for, almost none of the information she provided appeared in NBC’s initial broadcast. Instead, it focused on the Moldovans who’s memories were being held “hostage,” according to the reporter.
In front of the local television news crew, Andrew and Neely Moldovan held empty picture frames as they expressed their heartbreak. Their string of complaints about the wedding photographer who ruined their special day quickly garnering sympathy as others joined in their outrage. The enraged public, believing the Moldovans’ story, sided with the bride and groom.
Days later, NBC released a follow-up report with many more details. In it, a wedding expert, who had blasted Andrea in the station’s prior segment, defended her after learning more about the case. But, the Moldovans’ story was already being picked up across the country and even overseas as Andrew and Neely took their smear campaign against Andrea one step further, advancing their “hostage” narrative on social media.
The backlash against the photographer grew as she was targeted on social media as well as online blogs by Andrew and Neely, along with the furious supporters they had amassed. Calling Andrea a “scam artist,” the couple effectively tarnished her reputation beyond repair as negative reviews poured in for her business, all based on the “disparaging and defamatory” statements the Moldovans had made.
The couple even “liked” a number of defamatory statements published by other people online, such as one on Yelp that accused Andrea Polito of giving the reviewer AIDS. Making matters worse, Neely seemed pleased as she bragged about how Andrea’s business was effectively “done.” Sadly, she was right. Although several one-star reviews were eventually removed for violating Yelp’s terms of service, it was too late.
Andrea Polito was slandered to the point she was forced to shut down her company. Almost overnight, the couple’s allegations ruined the business she had spent 13 years building as she went from booking 75-100 weddings a season to only booking two. She drained her savings and retirement accounts in an effort to provide for her family as she struggled with feeling both humiliated and “completely dead.” But, she refused to be unfairly defeated.
After collecting evidence to prove that the Moldovans’ accusations against her were false, the out-of-work wedding photographer took the couple to court, claiming they were “dead set in their pursuit of publicity and public shaming.” Thanks to a jury’s shocking verdict, the Moldovans learned that fabricating complaints was a big and costly mistake.
The Moldovans tried to claim innocence, alleging that “fake accounts” were posing as them online, but those allegations — like the ones they made against Andrea Polito — were proven false. Andrea showed the court emails in which she and her employees tried to appease the couple — all the while, the Moldovans were calling reporters, whipping up a furor on social media, and plugging their newfound fame to fans of Neely’s beauty blog.
The Dallas County jury concluded that Andrew and Neely Moldovan embarked on an extensive effort to slam Andrea and her business. In the defamation suit, the wedding photographer was awarded $1.08 million in damages to be paid by the Moldovans.
The couple can appeal the ruling, but that matters little to Andrea Polito. Even though she may never see a cent of the money since her lawyer expects the couple to challenge the verdict before a judge orders them to pay, the photographer is pleased that she’s been vindicated. “For two-and-a-half years I walked around my daughter’s school feeling ashamed and embarrassed,” she said. “They know I’ve won now.”
The Moldovans said they were “stunned,” claiming in a written statement, “We were unhappy with a situation, so we complained like anyone would. This court decision tells consumers not to speak up for fear of fat legal bills and painful judgments.” Once again, they seem misguided in their assertions.
“No one is saying you can’t go and write a review,” explained Andrea’s attorney, Dave Wishnew. “Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence. Things you put on the internet to attack a business have real-world consequences and that really resonated with the jury. You can’t go and burn someone’s house down and claim free speech.”
While the Moldovans were taught an expensive lesson, it’s too bad their band of online trolls wasn’t also held accountable. Andrea’s story should serve as a reminder to those who might be quick to jump on the “boycott and bad-mouth bandwagon” after seeing a scathing social media post. There are always two sides to every story. And, if you’re in the business of news, it’s always wise to get both sides before running with a juicy story.
Had the initial reporter done their due diligence and presented all the facts, this entire ordeal could have been mostly diverted. As for those who might consider raking someone over the coals on social media or by running to the press, what you put in writing and say on camera better be true or it could cost you. Think twice before trying to pull someone else down, or you might find yourself getting sunk right along with them.