by Paul Rubell, Esq.
Pity poor Patrick Snay, who until 2011 was the Director and Head of Schools at Guillver Preparatory School in Miami. Mr. Snay’s 2010-2011 employment agreement was not renewed, and Snay sued the school for age discrimination. Gulliver Schools, Inc. et al v.
The lawsuit was settled in November 2011 for a total of $150,000 (consisting of $10,000 in back pay; $80,000 in damages; and $60,000 for legal fees). As with most out-of-court settlements, the financial arrangement was to be kept strictly confidential. Snay’s agreement contained the following provision:
13. Confidentiality. . . [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 Plaintiff’s portion of the settlement payments.
Only a few days after the settlement was signed (but before the moneys were paid), Patrick Snay’s college-aged daughter Dana posted the following story about the settlement on Facebook:
“Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT.”
Her 1,200 Facebook “friends” including many present and past students at Gulliver Prep.
The school promptly sent a notice of breach to Mr. Snay, and refused to pay the $80,000 damages portion of the settlement. Gulliver claimed that Snay breached his confidentiality obligation by informing his daughter about the specifics of the settlement.
Of course Snay and Gulliver found themselves in court as adversaries once again. The trial court ruled that the settlement was not breached and that Gulliver had to pay the agreed-upon amounts.
However, on appeal, the decision was overturned. The District Court of Appeal of Florida ruled that:
“…before the ink was dry on the agreement, 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 Gulliver community that Snay had been successful in his age discrimination and retaliation case against the school.”
Clearly Dana Snay’s Facebook post is what aggravated and embarrassed the school. But the case is not really about social media. Facebook was simply the medium by which Snay’s breach of contract was publicized – as well as the story.
However, Patrick Snay violated his covenant not to tell anyone (including his daughter) about the settlement.
Had his daughter not posted her blurb on Facebook, no one would have known about his breach – but Snay breached his duty of confidentiality nonetheless.
Here, Dana’s unthinking use of social media led Gulliver to learn (likely from the school’s students who read Facebook) about the disclosure.
We live in a world of NSA leaks, credit card data breaches at Target, patient information records being mishandled by hospitals.
Yet it is important to remember that the most innocuous Tweet, or Facebook post, or Pinterest pin, or Instagram photo can have serious repercussions.
This one cost Patrick Snay $80,000.