View Full Version : Appeals court panel says former female combat pilot can't sue critics

12-14-03, 06:47 AM
Appeals court panel says former female combat pilot can't sue critics

1:51 a.m. December 13, 2003

WASHINGTON A federal appeals court says one of the Navy's first female combat pilots cannot sue groups that questioned her qualifications to fly F-14 aircraft.

Former Navy Lt. Carey D. Lohrenz sued the Center for Military Readiness, an advocacy group that opposed women serving in combat, and two media outlets seven years ago. She said they ruined her Navy career by alleging she was not capable of flying F-14s.

But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that Lohrenz lost some of her privacy protections when she became one of the first two female naval combat aviators.

"Lt. Lohrenz was not just any fighter pilot," Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote for the panel. "When she 'suited up,' she could reasonably have been expected to know that she was assuming a position of 'special prominence' in the controversy about women in combat roles."

The panel also determined that although the reports may well have been inaccurate, Lohrenz did not prove that reporters acted with malice, a necessary hurdle for public figures claiming defamation.

"It's disappointing, because it seems like such a technicality to me," Lohrenz told The Washington Post. "The truth has been rendered here irrelevant."

Lt. Kara Hultgreen, the other female combat pilot, died while attempting to land her F-14 on an aircraft carrier in October 1994. After that, Elaine Donnelly, the president of the Center for Military Readiness, alleged that the Navy knew Hultgreen and Lohrenz were substandard pilots.

Her reports, which were reported by the Copley Press and News World Communications Inc., claimed that the Pentagon used a "politically driven" double standard to help them qualify for pilot duty.

Kent Masterson Brown, Donnelly's attorney, called the decision a victory for free speech. "There needs to be a lot of room for people to debate whether the military is making sure the people it puts into these jets are the most qualified," Brown said.

Before Donnelly's early 1995 reports, Lohrenz was rated an above-average pilot. However, she later received average marks and lost her flight status on F-14s.