A recent Facebook post cost a former private school headmaster $80,000 and there’s a lesson in it for everyone who negotiates an employment claim settlement. If you violate the terms of a settlement, it will have repercussions.
Here’s what happened: The headmaster of a private school in Florida believed he was the victim of age discrimination when his employment contract was not renewed. He sued the school for age discrimination and eventually was awarded a settlement. As is often the case, the settlement agreement included a confidentiality clause that prohibited the headmaster from disclosing the terms of the agreement to almost anyone.
The headmaster felt it was important to tell his daughter that his claim had been settled. The confidentiality clause was spectacularly violated when she posted on her Facebook page that the school was “…now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. Suck it.” Her post was brought to the attention of the school’s attorneys who went to court and got an order requiring the headmaster to return the $80,000 settlement payment. The headmaster had violated the confidentiality clause by discussing the case with his daughter. Her Facebook post put the violation out there for all the world to see. Unless the decision is reversed on appeal, the daughter’s Facebook post will turn out to have been very expensive.
The lessons for anyone involved in an employment claim settlement are:
- Be careful about what you’re agreeing to when you sign an employment claim settlement
- Understand and abide by the restrictions imposed by the settlement agreement
- Consider working with all involved to settle on confidentiality terms you can live with. Typically, you should be allowed to discuss settlement terms with your spouse, your attorney and your tax advisor. The parties will often agree to respond to questions about the dispute with something like, “it was resolved on mutually agreeable terms” or “to the mutual satisfaction of the parties.”
- Realize that once you reveal any information about the settlement, you may be putting the proceeds of the settlement at risk by violating confidentiality language. Share confidentiality restrictions with everyone you make disclosures to so they understand them.
- Be aware that social media gives worldwide exposure to anything that’s posted and may provide irrefutable proof that you violated confidentiality restrictions
- Know that you may be forced to repay negotiated settlement payments if you are found to have violated confidentiality language in the agreement.
The confidentiality restrictions imposed by a settlement agreement can be hard to abide by, but this case gives us a clear lesson: Understand and honor those restrictions if you want to keep the proceeds of the settlement in your pocket.