Mark Pentecost: Beware of social media

Stories that demonstrate that we are now living in a world where the use of social media can have serious and unforeseen results are becoming more and more widely reported in the media these days. Despite the fact that these stories are so widely disseminated on the web, people continue to get into hot water.

Examples of people getting into trouble because of what they have posted on Facebook in particular are everywhere and the results can range from social embarrassment, getting the sack or even being arrested. A teenage girl in Florida posted on her Facebook status: “Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to 
Europe this summer. SUCK IT” – it cost her father over $80,000. The circumstances surrounding it could apply equally to us here in the UK.

Dana Snay posted about her father’s discrimination payout on Facebook and thereby breached a confidentiality clause. Her father, Patrick Snay, 69, had previously won $10,000 in back pay and an $80,000 settlement from Gulliver Preparatory School in Miami for age discrimination.

Word spread fast and eventually reached the school who then refused to pay the settlement, saying that Snay broke his confidentiality agreement. According to the ‘Miami Herald’ the judge said “Snay violated the agreement by doing exactly what he had promised not to do, and his daughter then did precisely what the confidentiality agreement was designed to prevent.”

Under the terms of the settlement agreement the headmaster was not supposed to tell anyone about the agreement but told his daughter, who in turn told her 1,200 
Facebook friends. The Florida appeal court agreed that Snay broke his agreement.

Some people are saying that this could be one of the costliest Facebook posts ever, and it should serve as a warning to any employees in this country who are offered a settlement agreement by their employer. Settlement agreements are frequently used to bring an employment contract to an end. The employer agrees a settlement with the employee, and the employee in turn gives up any rights in the future to bring an 
employment-related claim against the employer.

Such agreements are a very useful tool for employer and employee, and they will almost invariably contain a confidentiality clause because the employer will not want all their employees to find out about the details of the settlement.

In this country, usually the employee is permitted to tell immediate family and their legal advisers but what the Snay case demonstrates is that extreme caution should be taken with these confidentiality clauses and if in doubt the best advice for employees would be to keep the details top secret as far as possible, especially with regard to the amount of the settlement. Otherwise there could be some painful lessons to suck up.

l Mark Pentecost is an assistant solicitor at Sanderson McCreath and Edney in Berwick.