Civil lawsuits are most frequently resolved by an out of court settlement. Employment discrimination and retaliation lawsuits are no exception. When a company makes the business decision to settle a civil lawsuit, the company generally requires the plaintiff(s) to agree to terms of confidentiality and requires that confidentiality provision be included in the settlement agreement. A confidentiality provision ensures that no one—other than the parties and their attorneys—learn about the specific terms upon which the case is being settled. A Florida court of appeals ruled on February 26, 2014 that spreading details about the existence and terms of settlement on Facebook violated a confidentiality provision in the parties’ settlement agreement.
In December 2010, Patrick Snay sued his former employer, the Gulliver Preparatory High School, for age discrimination and retaliation after the school failed to renew his employment contract. After litigating the case for a year, Snay agreed to dismiss the lawsuit in exchange for $80,000 and his attorney’s fees. Snay and the school signed a written settlement agreement that prevented Snay from disclosing the agreement to anyone other than his wife and his attorney. The agreement specified that if Snay violated the confidentiality provision, he would forfeit the settlement amount. Four days after the parties entered into the settlement agreement, the school learned that Snay violated the confidentiality provision when his daughter posted on Facebook that, “Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer.” Snay’s daughter and several hundred of her Facebook “friends” attended Gulliver. The school refused to pay the $80,000 because of the Facebook post.
In denying Snay’s motion to enforce the $80,000 settlement, the Florida court of appeals reasoned:
Snay violated the agreement by doing exactly what he had promised not to do. His daughter then did precisely what the confidentiality agreement was designed to prevent, advertising to the Gulliver community that Snay had been successful in his age discrimination and retaliation case against the school.
The communal impulse to share personal details on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter may inspire other former plaintiffs or their friends and family to boast about a recent legal victory. Companies that have lately settled a discrimination or retaliation lawsuit should consider monitoring public posts on social media to ensure their former employees are abiding by their confidentiality agreements. Employees who fail to do so may not “like” the results.
Read the Florida Third District Court of Appeals opinion in Gulliver Schools, Inc. v. Patrick Snay.
Heather Sherrod (firstname.lastname@example.org / +1 713 651 5163) is a lawyer in Norton Rose Fulbright Houston’s Employment and Labor Practice.