A federal judge on Tuesday voided a non-disclosure agreement that Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign required employees to sign, ruling that the agreement is too broad and unenforceable.
In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Gardephe said the sweeping, boilerplate language the campaign compelled employees to sign was so vague that the agreement was invalid under New York contract law.
“The vagueness and breadth of the provision is such that a Campaign employee would have no way of what may be disclosed, and, accordingly, Campaign employees are not free to speak about anything concerning the Campaign,” wrote Gardephe, according to Politico. “The non-disclosure provision is thus much broader than what the Campaign asserts is necessary to protect its legitimate interests, and, therefore, is not reasonable.”
Gardephe’s 36-page decision said a non-disparagement clause in the agreement was similarly flawed.
“The Campaign’s past efforts to enforce the non-disclosure and non-disparagement provisions demonstrate that it is not operating in good faith to protect what it has identified as legitimate interests,” the judge added. “The evidence before the Court instead demonstrates that the Campaign has repeatedly sought to enforce the non-disclosure and non-disparagement provisions to suppress speech that it finds detrimental to its interests.”
Gardephe issued the ruling in a case brought by Jessica Denson, a Hispanic outreach director for Trump in 2016 who accused the campaign of sex discrimination in separate litigation.
At one point, the campaign persuaded an arbitrator to issue a $50,000 award against Denson for violating the agreement, but that award was later overturned.
Denson celebrated the latest ruling, saying it dealt a death blow to a tactic Trump has long wielded to control his image.
“I’m overjoyed,” Denson told Politico. “This president … former president spent all four years aspiring to autocracy while claiming that he was champion of freedom and free speech. … There’s many people out there who have seen cases like mine and were terrified to speak out.”
As noted by Politico, “Trump required such secrecy agreements of his personal employees and staff in his companies. When he jumped into the presidential race in 2016, his lawyers continued to demand NDAs that seemed modeled on those he used previously in his personal and business affairs. The practice continued into Trump’s presidency, despite warnings from First Amendment advocates that it was unconstitutional to demand that public employees swear an oath of secrecy. Precisely who at the White House was required to sign such agreements and what they covered remains something of a mystery.”