Nondisclosure agreements are in the news. Here’s an interesting aspect of making a claim that a nondisclosure agreement was violated – plaintiff’s claim for violation of a nondisclosure agreement must establish that the alleged wrongful disclosure was of confidential but true information, which was covered by the nondisclosure agreement. Of course, there are also other important issues relating to whether or not a nondisclosure agreement was breached – such as, for example, whether the holder of the privilege (e.g., the plaintiff employer) can actually prevent the disclosure, or reporting of the information to all sources or just some sources (such as, for example, to the police or to a regulatory entity or to the board of directors, compared to the press or the public), or whether, regardless of the existence of the nondisclosure agreement, the person disclosing the information has standing and a right to bring a legal action relative to the event or occurrence from which the information arose (such as, for example, in a situation of alleged unlawful discrimination or harassment).
See, e.g., Glassdoor, Inc. v. Superior Court (2017) 9 cal. App. 5th 623, which held:
“An employer cannot establish a claim for breach of a nondisclosure agreement unless it is prepared to prove, and does prove, that the defendant disclosed actual confidential information, i.e., that his or her statements were, in some relevant degree, true. Nothing in this record would sustain a finding that the CEO’s statements—reported by Doe inaccurately, according to MZ—had this effect.
MZ’s hesitation on this point may be understandable, because Doe’s supposed disclosures do not cast MZ in a favorable light. But MZ cannot be excused from the requisite showing merely because proving a prima facie case might be embarrassing to it. If Doe accurately disclosed company policy, or the CEO’s statements regarding that policy, it was incumbent upon MZ to present evidence to that effect. Instead it denied the accuracy of Doe’s report without identifying any real confidential information it might be understood to have disclosed. MZ therefore failed to establish a prima facie case predicated on Doe’s account of the CEO’s statements.”
As an additional requirement, in trade secret cases the holder of the secret (e.g., the plaintiff employer) is required to describe the trade secret so that the court and the defendant are sufficiently apprised of the confidential information that is alleged to have been wrongfully disclosed – thus, since the disclosure of that confidential information by the holder of the secret would mean that the trade secret information is no longer secret and would therefore invalidate the holder’s entire case of trade secret secrecy, keeping that information confidential, while also sufficiently disclosing that information to the court and to the defendant is a requirement that must be carefully accomplished. Thus, for example, for California state court nondisclosure and trade secret cases, see also Cal. Civ. Code §3426.5, which states in part that the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, requires the trial court to “preserve the secrecy of an alleged trade secret by reasonable means, which may include granting protective orders in connection with discovery proceedings, holding in-camera hearings, sealing the records of the action, and ordering any person involved in the litigation not to disclose an alleged trade secret without prior court approval.”
That’s all for now. Of course, each situation is different.
David Tate, Esq., Royse Law Firm, Menlo Park, California office, with offices in northern and southern California. http://rroyselaw.com