Stressing to your teenage children that their posts on Facebook and other social media can have a real cost is something that most parents do. For Patrick Snay, the cost became very real following a recent decision of the Third District Court of Appeal in Florida: Gulliver v. Snay.
Snay had sued his former employer for age discrimination following the decision of the school not to renew his contract as headmaster at a private Florida school that his daughter attended.
The parties agreed to settle the claim. The settlement included payment to Snay of $80,000, but also included a confidentiality provision that relieved the school of the obligation to make payment of the settlement amount should Snay or his wife breach the confidentiality provisions of the settlement agreement. The confidentiality provisions provided, in part, as follows:
“[T]he plaintiff shall not either directly or indirectly, disclose, discuss or communicate to any entity or person, except his attorneys or other professional advisors or spouse any information whatsoever regarding the existence or terms of this Agreement. . . A breach . . .will result in disgorgement of the Plaintiffs portion of the settlement Payments.”
A mere four days after the settlement was reached, the Snay’s college-aged daughter made the following post on her Facebook page, which went out to her 1200 Facebook friends:
“Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT.”
At trial, Snay succeeded in his argument that the disclosure by his daughter did not amount to a breach of the confidentiality provisions. The Court of Appeal, in a decision that should apply with equal force relative to the enforcement of confidentiality provisions in Canada, reversed, and held that no part of the settlement funds we payable to Snay.
The Court of Appeal held that a settlement agreement is to be interpreted like any other contract, and that unambiguous language is to be given a realistic interpretation based on the plain, everyday meaning conveyed by the words.
In this case, the plain, unambiguous meaning of the confidentiality provision was that neither Snay nor his wife would “either directly or indirectly” disclose to anyone (other than their lawyers or other professionals) “any information” regarding the existence or the terms of the parties’ agreement.
Snay admitted to telling his daughter of the settlement. His statement that “he needed to tell his daughter something” did not excuse his breach. His intention to disclose should have been revealed during the settlement negotiations, so that this fact might be considered by the school.
The court held that 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 school community that Snay had been successful in his case against the school.
The case serves as a poignant reminder that social media is a very public forum, and communication through it will be treated as any other form of communication or publication.
This article was originally published on AdvocateDaily.com