By Andrew Hendricks
We've all posted something to social media that we ended up regretting. Maybe the night out at the bar wasn't best shared with our family and coworkers, and maybe our aggressive political opinions at 3AM were best kept to ourselves. Yet, no matter how often you've shot yourself in the foot by talking to the world, a single Facebook post is generally unlikely to cost you $80,000. But it could.
And for one girl and her family, it did. It all began when the former headmaster of Gulliver Preparatory School, Patrick Snay settled out of court with the school after he sued over their refusal to renew his contract. The non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that he signed, however, was predicated on the condition that he and his wife keep private the “terms and existence” of the settlement that totaled $80,000.
Whether or not Snay actually told his daughter the amount of the settlement is unclear, however, by the terms of his settlement, even telling his daughter of the existence of a settlement would violate the agreement.
So it did not help matters when Snay's daughter posted the following to Facebook:
“Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT.”
Gulliver's lawyers cried foul and were originally still ordered by the court to pay Snay, but they won on a higher court appeal because, as Slate writer Katy Waldman points out, “the infractions here were twofold: Snay divulging the deal to his daughter and his daughter broadcasting it to all of her 'friends.' What can we learn from their misfortune, fellow millennials? Do not boast. Do not mess with attorneys.”
It apparently didn't help matters when it was pointed out that there was no European trip planned and Snay's daughter was joking (in case the “suck it” didn't make it clear).
The Snays are not the only sob story of someone who ought to have known better. Rushing online to brag about a new boyfriend, car, or job is simply second nature to some—especially younger people who have lived their entire adult lives in a world with internet access. Yet as natural as it may be, it's important to remember when you brag about specifics, it's not exactly anonymous. And if you've signed a piece of paper saying you won't publicly disclose any aspect of that which you wish to brag about, don't be surprised when it gets taken away from you. NDAs are not suggestions—they are legally binding agreements.
Another, somewhat sadder example of a naive NDA-violator was that of an excited poster in the “Pics” section of the website Reddit, a popular news aggregator website. Going by the user-name filthy33, the user posted a picture with the title “After 2 years, 4 months and 18 days of being unemployed. Tomorrow I can finally put on my new uniform.”
In the post's picture was a “Chrome Specialist” badge, a certificate of training completion, and a Google Chrome shirt. The post received a lot of attention, but it was pointed out by someone that his answer to a fellow commenter's question regarding a plan of Google's to push sales of Samsung Chromebooks through Best Buy was probably a violation of the NDA he had to sign. It was. Google demanded he delete the Reddit account and terminated him from his position.
This led to a brief outcry when the poster informed the Reddit community of these facts from a new account. Yet to filthy33's credit, he owned up to his fault in the matter and did not blame Google for their response to his actions, which he really should have been able to predict.
Some who watched the drama unfold pointed out that even if he had technically violated the terms of his NDA (and boy did he), this was bad publicity for Google and that they would be smart, from a PR standpoint, to give the nice-if-not-naive Reddit poster his job back. This is a nice sentiment, however it misunderstands the entire concept of non-disclosure agreements and their purpose. Google undoubtedly bore this poor guy no ill will, but the last thing any major business would want to do is set a precedent for selectively enforcing and not enforcing NDAs.
In the digital age, employees are able to have access to more and more sensitive information, and the reasons for the sensitivity of certain details are sometimes not obvious to the individual employee. While many NDAs exist for the standard, boilerplate “don't contact or steal my clients under threat of law” rationale, when it comes to major tech companies, the leaking (even unintentionally) of a sales strategy, product launch, or a partnership with a new business can cost the company millions of dollars—a situation you do not want to be caught on the wrong end of. And when it comes to NDAs that spawn from court settlements, remember to also apply Slate's recommended strategy: “Don't mess with lawyers.”