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Age discrimination suit settlement voided after Facebook post

Many age discrimination and similar workplace discrimination cases never make it to trial. Employers are often eager to avoid litigation, and the victim’s attorney can negotiate a fair settlement in many cases. Settlements typically include a financial payment to the employee to help make up for the damages he or she suffered due to the discrimination.

It is not uncommon for the parties to agree to a stipulation that nobody involved in the claim is allowed to talk about it with the media. This is frequently due to the employer’s desire to avoid bad publicity. In exchange for agreeing not to publicly discuss the employment discrimination, the plaintiff may get certain benefits.

A recent case from outside of New Jersey illustrates what can happen when the gag order is not followed. A court of appeals has dismissed the settlement of an age discrimination lawsuit filed against a prep school by its former headmaster, costing him tens of thousands of dollars. The headmaster sued the school after it did not renew his employment contract in 2010, when the man was in his mid-60s.

The parties settled the suit in 2011. As part of the settlement, the school agreed to pay him $10,000 in back wages and $80,000 in damages, as well as attorney fees. In exchange, the plaintiff and his wife agreed to keep the “terms and existence” of the settlement confidential.

The couple told their daughter about the settlement, reportedly to help heal “psychological scars” she suffered due to the suit. The daughter was a student at the prep school at the time.

Shortly afterward, a post appeared from the daughter’s Facebook account. The post refers to the settlement, and says that the school “is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer.”

When the school found out about the post, they asked the court to void the settlement. They argued that the plaintiff and his wife violated the confidentiality agreement by telling their daughter, who in turn posted it on the Internet, where students and school employees saw it. The court refused to void the deal, but the appellate court agreed with the defendant.

The plaintiff has the right to file a motion to rehear the case, or he can appeal the decision to the state supreme court.

Source: Miami Herald, “Daughter’s Facebook boast costs former Gulliver Prep headmaster $80,000 discrimination settlement,” David Smiley, Feb. 26, 2014

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