Confidentiality Agreements and Social Media: The $90,000 Facebook Post
April 4, 2014
By Lauren Hoye
In February 2014, Patrick Snay, former headmaster of the Gulliver Preparatory School in Miami, Florida learned just how airtight a confidentiality provision in a settlement agreement can be. His story, which has garnered national coverage in recent weeks, shows what can happen when standard legal settlement provisions intersect with modern communication in the digital age.
In 2010, Snay sued the Gulliver School after the school failed to renew his employment contract. Snay alleged that Gulliver had discriminated against him and that his daughter, a Gulliver student, was suffering retaliation. In 2011 the parties settled the lawsuit, and as part of that settlement Gulliver agreed to pay Snay $90,000 plus an additional $60,000 in legal fees. Snay, meanwhile, agreed to keep both the existence and the terms of settlement private – a standard “confidentiality” provision.
A few days later, Snay’s teenage daughter, Dana, posted on her Facebook page for all 1,200 of her “friends” to see: “Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT.” Among Dana’s “friends” were former and current Gulliver students. It was not long until Gulliver’s attorneys learned of Dana’s Facebook post and informed Snay that the settlement agreement was off, meaning that the money that Snay had won in settlement was off the table.
Seeking to enforce the settlement agreement, Snay returned to court and persuaded the trial court to enforce the agreement. Gulliver appealed, and in February 2014, Judge Linda Ann Wells of Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the Gulliver School: “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.”
The Snay/Gulliver dispute provides a cautionary tale on the importance of all provisions in any employment settlement agreement. In most instances the focus is on money and benefits, and rightly so. But the Snay case reminds us that the non-monetary terms of a settlement agreement are just as important, and binding, as the monetary terms. When negotiating an employment settlement (and hopefully working with a qualified employment attorney), employees should consider not only their bottom line but also which non-economic terms they can reasonably expect to satisfy.
Here, Snay made two mistakes. First and foremost, he disclosed confidential settlement terms to his teenage daughter. Second, his daughter turned to Facebook to boast about her father “winning” the lawsuit. That Facebook post – visible to over a thousand people, some of them affiliated with the Gulliver School – ultimatley cost the family their settlement agreement.
Social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, are rapidly becoming our primary method to share news and information. While these outlets often “feel” private to the user, they are in fact designed to reach as many people as possible. Employees generally, and especially those involved in ltigation, should assume that anyone and everyone can access the information they share on social media, even if their settings are “private.” Mr. Snay is paying the price for not having taken the confidentiality provision in the settlement agreement sufficiently seriously. He now faces protracted litigation to try to salvage his settlement. Dana Snay’s Facebook page, meanwhile, has been taken down. (No word on her European vacation plans.)
The labor and employment attorneys at Willig, Williams & Davidson can help you navigate the complexities associated with employment disputes, including the negotiation of separation and confidentiality agreements. For more information about your rights in any employment dispute, contact Willig, Williams & Davidson and ask to speak with one of our labor and employment attorneys.