Don’t Yap if You Agreed to Shut Your Trap!

A pair of recent court decisions underline the significant consequences to those who violate confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements. The first case is noteworthy for the parties involved. TMZ and other media sources reported that a court found that Oksana Grigorieva, Mel Gibson's ex-girlfriend who had alleged physical and emotional abuse by the actor (remember those audio tapes of Gibson berating her?!), violated a confidentiality provision in a settlement agreement with Gibson, costing her no less than $375,000. The settlement agreement concerned the couple's custody and child support dispute involving their baby daughter, and the court ruled that Grigorieva had agreed therein not to talk about Gibson. Grigorieva, for unknown reasons, appeared in an interview with Howard Stern. Not surprisingly, Stern's line of questioning ventured into the topic of her relationship with Gibson. The interview included the following exchanges:

  • After Stern referenced the infamous audio tapes, Grigorieva responded, "Life happens ... I'm still catching up on the humor part."
  • Stern empathized with Grigorieva, and told her she had to move forward in life. Grigorieva then commented about her "painful and dark" experience and stated she wanted to help others.
  • Stern pressed, and asked Grigorieva if Gibson wined and dined her. She responded that it was too painful to even talk about.
  • Finally, Stern declared that a woman shouldn't be treated the way Gibson treated Grigorieva, especially the mother of his child, and she said, "Thank you."

Even though Grigorieva appeared to try to avoid violating the confidentiality provision, the court decided that she didn't try hard enough. Media have also now reported that Grigorieva has filed bankruptcy.

In the second notable case, Patrick Snay, 69, sued his employer, Gulliver Preparatory School in Miami, for age discrimination and retaliation under the Florida Civil Rights Act. The two parties reached a settlement, with Snay receiving $150,000 total, which was split up as $10,000 for back pay to him, $60,000 for attorneys' fees and another $80,000 that would be paid to Snay and reported to the IRS via a Form 1099. The settlement agreement included a run-of-the-mill confidentiality agreement that prohibited Snay from telling anyone other than his wife and attorneys ("professional advisors") about the existence or terms of the settlement agreement. Moments after Snay signed the settlement agreement, however, he told his college-age daughter (and Gulliver alumnus) that the case was resolved and they were happy with the settlement.

Snay's daughter then posted the following message on Facebook to her 1200 some odd friends, many of whom were either current or former Gulliver students:

"Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT"

Not surprisingly, Gulliver learned about the posting. Gulliver thereafter actually issued and delivered the $10,000 back pay and $60,000 attorneys' fee checks, but refused to pay Snay the remaining $80,000 check. Snay then filed a motion with the trial court to enforce the terms of the settlement agreement, which the trial court granted. Gulliver appealed that ruling to the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, which reversed the trial court order, finding that, "Snay violated the agreement by doing exactly what he had promised not to do."

These two cases serve as poignant reminders to both employers and employees that courts take confidentiality provisions very seriously, and that, at least in these instances, what you say can be used against you.