Boston Globe sues employee for breach of severance agreement
On May 25, 2018, the Boston Globe sued one of its former employees for breach of contract arising out of a dispute that began on Twitter, and as the Globe alleges, implicates a provision of the parties' 2016 severance agreement.
According to the complaint, in 2016, the employee separated from the Globe and received some severance pay in consideration for, among other things, an agreement "to cooperate with any reasonable request by the Company in connection with any matter with which [she was] involved or any existing or potential claim, investigation, administrative proceeding, lawsuit or other legal or business matter that arose during [her] employment with the Company."
How did this 2016 provision become an issue in 2018?
On May 20th and 21st, 2018 the employee posted a series of Tweets suggesting she had been the target of sexual harassment while an employee at the Globe. According to the complaint, the Globe allegedly reached out to her in the days following to ask for more information about her Tweets. She and her attorney allegedly refused to provide more information.
Within five days of her initial Tweet on this matter, the Globe sued her for breach of contract alleging that she was violating the above provision of her separation agreement that obligates her to cooperate with a Globe investigation arising out of her employment.
Yesterday, a Suffolk Superior judge heard arguments on the preliminary injunction request. Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (MLW) covered the hearing, and suggested the Globe argued that reasonable cooperation under the severance agreement would include the employee "sitting for an interview and producing certain documents related to her allegations."
According to MLW, the judge pressed both parties on what the cognizable, compensable harm was as to each side. According to MLW, the Globe argued it needed to investigate "to get to the truth of the allegation and, if necessary, discipline" anyone involved still employed by the Globe for its own protection and the protection of its current employees.
The Globe further suggested its reputation was being harmed by a suggestion that it had not been “looking after its own house to the same degree” as it reports on incidents of sexual harassment elsewhere. The employee's lawyer also suggested her reputation was being damaged.
This story is still developing and, according to MLW, the judge may rule on the preliminary injunction request today. One takeaway from this story generally, however, is that these provisions in separation agreements can rear their heads later and must be attended to carefully when being drafted and negotiated.
Doorways Employment Law is a virtual employment law practice, leveraging the power of technology to connect with clients in the most efficient and convenient way possible. It specializes in employment law counseling, strategic advice and representation to individuals and businesses across Massachusetts, including on severance/separation agreements. Contact Doorway Employment Law for an employment law consultation.