Most in Austin likely associate confidentiality agreements with businesses hoping to keep former employees from sharing their trade secrets with competitors. Yet such agreements are also common in civil cases. Oftentimes, as a stipulation of a settlement, one side may ask that the other enter into a confidentiality in exchange for other consideration. However, some may view such as agreement as a veritable gag order which forces one side underground while the other is allowed to say whatever it wants.
Such is the claim being made by the attorney representing a former staffer of a seasoned Michigan congressman. The woman had accused the congressman of sexual harassment after she claimed she was fired for not reciprocating his romantic interest in her. As part of the settlement the two reached, the woman agreed to a confidentiality agreement. Yet after news recently broke of the settlement, the congressman was quick to deny any wrongdoing. The woman (through her attorney) has now asked that she be released from her agreement so that she may tell her side of the story. The congressman’s attorney was quick to point out that the woman consented to the agreement on her own. Her attorney counters, however, by saying that by the congressman addressing the issue now, fairness dictates that she be allowed to speak about it, as well. Were she to be called to testify by the House Ethics Committee, she would not be bound by the agreement. That may be a possibility after question were raised about the congressman paying her settlement from his office’s operational funds.
Actions to modify or enforce confidentiality agreements regarding civil cases can be quite complex. Thus, those dealing with them may be wise to seek out the services of an experienced attorney.
Source: The Detroit News “Attorney calls on Conyers to let former staffer speak” Burke, Melissa Nann, Nov. 27, 2017