Sometimes there are advantages to leaving things unsaid, or at least not permanently documented via social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Vine or Pinterest. This is especially true if your company or individual employees are named defendants in an employment lawsuit. For example, a plaintiff recently forfeited the right to collect an $80,000 settlement payment from his former employer because of his daughter’s errant Facebook post.
Patrick Snay, a sixty-nine year old high school administrator, filed an age discrimination complaint against his former employer (Gulliver Preparatory School) when it refused to renew his employment contract for the 2010-2011 school year. In November of 2011, the school and Mr. Snay agreed to settle the lawsuit for $10,000 in back pay and an additional $80,000 settlement payment. However, the agreement was contingent on confidentiality. Mr. Snay was not allowed to discuss the terms of the settlement with anyone other than his attorneys or other professional advisers.
Mr. Snay subsequently breached the terms of the settlement agreement by disclosing its terms to his daughter. Shortly after he disclosed the Settlement to his daughter she posted the following her Facebook page:
“Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT.”
Mr. Snay’s daughter had roughly 1,200 friends on Facebook, many of whom were still students at Gulliver Preparatory. Not surprisingly, the school soon found out that Mr. Snay had failed to honor the confidentiality agreement and refused to give him the $80,000 settlement payment. A special hearing was conducted to determine whether Mr. Snay’s disclosure to his daughter violated the agreement. The trial court said that it did not but the Third District Court of Appeals for the State of Florida reversed. It held that Mr. Snay violated the agreement and his daughter did exactly what the agreement was designed to prevent. She shamed the school by advertising its alleged transgressions.
This is a cautionary tale. An employer could just as easily violate a similar confidentiality provision if an employee who was privy of a settlement agreement’s terms disclosed them to another employee who then makes an unauthorized disclosure on a social media network. If any of your employees are party to a settlement agreement you must emphasize the importance of not discussing it with anyone other than those involved in the settlement. Even if they do not widely disseminate the confidential information, the person they disclose it to may. And if they do, the consequences can be severe.