Facebook strikes again! Just ask a settling plaintiff who learned that his negotiated settlement payment was deemed void as a result of his daughter’s Facebook post. According to a recent decision out of Miami, an $80,000 payment was presumptively waived as a result of a post from the plaintiff’s daughter broadcasting the “victory” due to a confidentiality clause within the settlement agreement. This is just another example of the serious consequences of inadvertent disclosure of confidential information and the risks of social media.
In the underlying suit, a 69-year-old former head of a private preparatory school in Miami, Florida filed an age discrimination complaint when his contract was not renewed. The plaintiff later settled for $10,000 in back pay, and an $80,000 payment, on condition that the terms be kept strictly confidential. This restriction was lost on the plaintiff’s daughter, however, who took to Facebook to alert her 1200 “friends” that her family won the lawsuit and that the school “is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer.”
Word of the post quickly reached school officials, who sent notice that the plaintiff was in violation of the confidentiality agreement. The school then filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement and to withhold payment. The Florida Court of Appeal agreed that the plaintiff had violated the settlement by speaking with his daughter, and held that the plaintiff was not entitled to the $80,000 settlement sum.
The Facebook disclosure, and subsequent enforcement action, underscores both the necessity to keep confidential matters private, as well as the importance to defendants of including confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements. Confidentiality provisions help to protect reputation, limit outside knowledge of the potential for successful lawsuits, and keep private the amount of damages that the defendant may be willing to pay. And if the confidentiality provision is breached, as seen in the Facebook post, the provision can be employed to recover any amounts paid and potentially seek additional damages for violating the agreement.