A former Trump campaign staffer filed a class action lawsuit alleging that the “sweeping and indefinite” non-disclosure and non-disparagement (NDAs) clauses concerning President Donald Trump and his family violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as well as New York’s state laws.
In a case filed in New York State Supreme Court, plaintiff Jessica Denson is seeking to have a judge declare the NDA clauses — which were required of all employees, contractors, and volunteers of the 2016 campaign — as void and unenforceable. Denson, who ran Hispanic engagement for the campaign, is being represented in the matter by government watchdog group Protect Democracy and law firms Bowles & Johnson PLLC and Ballard Spahr LLP.
According to the complaint, the 2016 Trump campaign contracts contained “two ill-defined and vastly overreaching” provisions restricting the freedom to speak on matters of public importance. The first was a non-disclosure clause prohibiting individuals from ever disclosing any information “that Mr. Trump insists remain private.” The second was a non-disparagement clause which proscribed Denson and others from “ever demean[ing] or disparag[ing] publicly” President Trump, any member of the president’s family, or any of his or his family’s private businesses.
Denson’s attorneys argue that while most private employers and political campaigns legally utilize NDAs, the Trump campaign’s agreement is so restrictive that it is legally unenforceable.
“The Form NDA drafted and imposed by the Campaign, however, is wildly broad, prohibiting a vast array of speech about a candidate for the highest office and the current President of the United States—forever. And the Campaign has repeatedly invoked its prohibitions in an effort to chill truthful political speech it dislikes,” the complaint stated. “Candidates for public office and public officials cannot silence former campaign workers forever. Former campaign workers have a right to criticize public officials and to contribute to the public debate. That right can be limited only to protect truly sensitive information for reasonable time periods; it cannot be stripped away entirely by contract.”
In a statement accompanying the lawsuit, one of Denson’s attorneys, David Bowles, reiterated that the Trump campaign’s NDAs were far broader in time and reach than those usually used by private entities.
“NDAs are not inherently illegal,” Bowles said. “The law allows companies to use NDAs to protect legitimate interests, such as trade secrets and customer lists. But the Trump campaign’s NDA goes well beyond what is allowed by the law, and the campaign has used it to retaliate against my client in an attempt to silence her, and has very likely intimidated others from speaking out. The courts should strike down these NDAs.”
Denson had previously filed lawsuits claiming she was subjected to sexual discrimination and harassment by the campaign, only to have the campaign file a counter-suit against her for breaching her employment contract. An arbitrator eventually ruled in the campaign’s favor, awarding Trump $50,000 in damages only to have that ruling overturned on appeal earlier this year.
Read the full complaint below.
[image via Erin Schaff-Pool_Getty Images]
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