The mother of Modern Family actress Ariel Winter sued an associate of her adult daughter for defamation Monday (local time), claiming he falsely labeled her an "abusive monster" in an online comment about an ongoing custody struggle for the teenage star.
Chrisoula Workman filed the defamation and false light lawsuit against Matthew Borlenghi, claiming his comment attached to a November 9 Los Angeles Times online story was false and has harmed her reputation.
Borlenghi is an actor who teaches at a studio operated by Shanelle Gray, Winter's adult sister who currently has custody of the 14-year-old actress. A judge temporarily stripped Workman of custody amid allegations she had been physically and emotionally abusive to the star.
A trial on whether Workman will be completely lose custody is scheduled to begin Wednesday.
Borlenghi said he had not yet seen the lawsuit and declined to say whether he posted a comment about the story on the Times website. The story centered on Workman's allegations that Winter was having an improper relationship with an 18-year-old actor.
"This is a total falsehood," the comment attributed to Borlenghi states. "The mother is grasping and clawing to find a way not to lose her money-maker, and hide the fact that she is an abusive monster."
The comment cites personal interactions with Workman for forming the opinions in the post.
"All I can say is that David (Gray) and Shanelle Gray are very close friends of mine and comments that Chris has made are absolutely fabricated," Borlenghi said when contacted about the case. "The negative comments she's made about her own daughter in order to try to get custody back of Ariel are truly disgusting."
Workman's lawsuit includes several pages of sworn declarations from tutors and other friends and associates denying she has been abusive to her daughter. The declarations have been filed in the guardianship case and may be considered by a judge who has to determine whether to allow Gray to continue caring for her sister.
A judge said last month that child protective investigators had evidence of emotional abuse toward Winter.
Workman has denied she has been abusive toward her daughter.
Guardianship cases in California are public record. Attorneys for Winter's sister requested the case and its proceedings be sealed, but a judge refused. The case was filed under Winter's birth name, Ariel Workman, in part to avoid attention.
Although The Associated Press does not generally name underage victims of abuse, Winter's name is being used because it is included in the public guardianship case.
Besides playing Alex Dunphy on ABC's Modern Family, Winter's credits include appearances on several TV series, including ER and Phineas and Ferb, and movies such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Ice Age: The Meltdown and ParaNorman.