The D.C. Circuit recently held that a “Mutual Non-Disparagement” clause requiring an employer to “direct” its employees not to disparage a former employee could reasonably be interpreted as prohibiting the employer itself from making disparaging statements.
In Wright v. Eugene & Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, Dr. Terri Wright, a former employee of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation (the “Foundation”), filed suit against the Foundation after discovering its CEO, Nicola Goren, had made disparaging statements about her.
The Foundation hired Wright in early February 2018 as its Vice President of Program and Community. During Wright’s tenure, Goren criticized her “interpersonal skills” and identified “communication issues.” In October 2019, Goren fired Wright, citing the same concerns. Wright believed these alleged issues were pretextual, but to attempt to avoid litigation, she entered into a Severance Agreement with the Foundation. The Severance Agreement contained a provision titled “Mutual Non-Disparagement” that read as follows:
You agree that you have not made, and will not make, any false, disparaging or derogatory statements to any person or entity, including any media outlet, industry group or financial institution, regarding the Foundation or any of the other Releasees, or about the Foundation’s business affairs and/or financial conditions; provided, however, that nothing herein prevents you from making truthful disclosures to any governmental entity or in any litigation or arbitration. Likewise, the Foundation will direct those officers, directors, and employees with direct knowledge of this revised letter agreement not to make any false, disparaging or derogatory statements to any person or entity regarding you; provided, however, that nothing herein prevents such individuals from making truthful disclosures to any governmental entity in litigation or arbitration.