Understanding the Obligations of a Confidentiality Agreement in Your Employment Discrimination Lawsuit

Often, one of the more powerful tools an employee has in an employment discrimination case is raising the prospect of taking an employer to court and bringing about unwanted negative publicity. This is has never been more true than in today’s digital age of social media, where anyone can broadcast information that may go before thousands of eyes within within a matter of moments. That’s why the inclusion of a contractual clause promising confidentiality is often key to an employer’s agreement to settle and pay the employee. California employees who agree to confidentiality clauses should ensure they understand their duties, because the consequences of a breach can be severe, as one prep school headmaster in another state recently learned.

The case involved Patrick Snay, the headmaster at Gulliver Preparatory School. After the school declined to renew his contract, the headmaster, who was in his mid 60s, sued for age discrimination. The two sides settled, with the school agreeing to pay the headmaster a settlement of $80,000 contingent on his agreement to maintain confidentiality. The headmaster agreed to the terms, which limited him to discussing the matter with his attorneys, professional advisors and wife, but he told his 18-year-old daughter about the outcome. The daughter, soon thereafter, logged onto Facebook, and posted that her parents had “won” the case and that the school was “now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer.” The post was available to the daughter’s 1,200 Facebook friends, many of whom were associated with the school.

After becoming aware of the Facebook post, the school refused to pay the headmaster, claiming that he violated the non-disclosure agreement. A Florida appeals court agreed with the school. The court was not moved by the headmaster’s argument that he had a familial obligation to give the daughter some information. The court stated that the headmaster should have told his attorneys about this need, so that his legal team could include that element within the terms of the non-disclosure agreement. The headmaster, however, discussed his plan with no one but his wife, the resulting confidentiality agreement made no allowance for telling the daughter and, in the end, the headmaster’s disclosure cost him $80,000.

The role of social media in this case should not be overlooked. Although the headmaster breached the agreement the moment he told his daughter, the school might have neither discovered the disclosure nor refused to pay the settlement had the daughter bragged to a few friends at a coffee shop rather than to 1,200 people on Facebook.

Although the Snay case occurred in Florida, a California employee agreeing to a similarly broad confidentiality clause might risk a similarly harmful outcome if he breached his agreement. The law states that, as long as the agreement is truly voluntary, not the result of fraud, and devoid of elements that violate the law or public policy, then both parties must follow the terms or suffer the consequences of a breach. If you are considering agreeing to a confidentiality agreement in order to settle your employment discrimination case, it is essential that you discuss all the details of your needs with your attorney, so that your attorney can ensure that the clause has all the terms your needs require.

Before you agree to settle your employment discrimination case, it is wise to consult an experienced California employment attorney. To get careful and skillful advice about each aspect of the settlement proposed to you, including easily overlooked items like confidentiality agreements, talk to the Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Our employment attorneys can help you dissect each element of your proposed settlement to make certain that the whole agreement works for you. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Employee Must Defend Both Trade Secret, Non-competition Violation Claims Against Former Employer, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Dec. 13, 2013

New Statute Widens the Parameters of California’s Non-Discrimination Protections, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Oct. 15, 2013

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