Journalist Jan Wong Breached Confidentiality Agreement with Former Employer, Globe and Mail; Ordered to Repay Severance Money

The self-published memoir that landed renowned journalist, Jan Wong, on the Canadian bestsellers’ list in 2012 has now landed her in hot water.

Wong’s memoir, entitled Out of the Blue, has been hailed by critics as a courageous account of her battle with workplace harassment and depression that subsequently resulted in her termination of employment from the Globe and Mail, where she was one of the paper’s top reporters for twenty years. The memoir also offers an in-depth account of her legal battle with her insurance company, Manulife, for denying her long-term disability benefits.

Breached Confidentiality Agreement

In the July 3, 2013 labour arbitration decision The Globe and Mail v CEP Local 87-M, it was ruled that Wong breached a confidentiality agreement signed by her, the union and the Globe in 2008, by publishing and disclosing the terms of the settlement in her memoir and must therefore pay back to her former employer the payment received.

The confidentiality agreement contained a provision that banned her from disclosing the details of the settlement with anyone other than her “legal or financial advisors, Manulife and [her] immediate family.”

While her memoir did not disclose the exact amount of the settlement that she negotiated with the Globe and Mail and the Paperworkers Union of Canada, Local 87-M, numerous passages did allude to her “winning” and receiving a “pile of money” from the settlement.

Wong wrongfully assumed that because she did not disclose the amount of the settlement, she was following the terms of the agreement. However, her disclosure that a payment had been made to her from the Globe and Mail as part of her settlement was, according to the arbitrator, a clear breach of the terms of the agreement.

Settlement To Be Returned

The arbitrator rejected the union’s arguments that “the repayment provision was a penalty clause or unfair or unconscionable in the circumstances” and has ordered Wong to return the settlement funds.

Employees who have signed confidentially agreements with their former employers should heed the lesson in this case and protect their settlement proceeds by remaining mum on the terms of the settlement.

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