A recent decision of a Florida Court has ruled that a Facebook post by a teenager, mentioning her father’s settlement of his case against his former employer, breached the confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement, thereby barring him from collecting the $80,000 settlement sum.
Dana Snay’s father, Patrick Snay, sued his former employer Gulliver Preparatory School for age-discrimination when his contract of employment was not renewed. Mr Snay, a former headmaster, reached a settlement with the school which involved the payment to him of $80,000 in damages. The settlement agreement contained a detailed confidentiality provision which prohibited Mr Snay from disclosing the “existence or terms” of the agreement to anyone but his lawyers or his wife. Notably, the clause contained a clawback provision in respect of the $80,000 which eliminated the need to prove actual damage in the event of a breach.
Shortly after the settlement was concluded, Mr Snay’s daughter posted the following Facebook status which was visible to over 1200 Facebook friends:
“Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT.”
This post was seen by staff and students of the school with whom she was friends with on Facebook as she had been a student there herself. When the school’s legal team became aware of the post, they informed Mr Snay that he had breached the confidentiality agreement and refused to pay him the $80,000.
Mr Snay challenged this but ultimately the court held that the Facebook post “did precisely what the confidentiality agreement was designed to prevent” i.e. it advertised to the Gulliver community that Mr Snay had been successful in his case.
This case not only highlights the need for well drafted confidentiality clauses but also serves as a warning to employers and employees alike that confidentiality clauses, particularly with clawback provisions, are taken seriously by the courts and can be enforced.
While the implications for employees for breach are obvious from the outcome of this case, employers should also be wary of the possible repercussions. Employers can be found liable for breach where an employee who is privy to the details of an agreement discloses these details to a third party. Employers are therefore reminded not to disseminate confidential agreements too widely, and to highlight the importance of non-disclosure to those who are privy to it.