The man who led the U.S security operations of Shell Oil Co., a former FBI agent named Crockett Oaks III, was part of a selection committee last year that recommended the hiring of a 53-year-old-man with a military background as a security adviser. After the company directed the committee to find a younger, female candidate, Oaks opposed hiring someone based on age or gender and was fired shortly after.
Those allegations are documented within a lawsuit filed by Oaks that is now testing the limits of employee confidentiality agreements. Shell Oil Co, which is the subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, obtained a temporary court order last week which blocked Oaks from revealing information to support his claim that could be potentially damaging to Shell’s personnel practices.
According to court documents Oaks was cognizant of confidential personnel decisions that might show his firing was retaliatory. Shell claims that Oaks violated his employment agreement after he shared confidential information with his lawyer and a third-party mediator brought in to settle the dispute.
Shell also accused Oaks of breaching his duty of loyalty and good faith to Shell by threatening to reveal details of internal investigations at Shell that the company says are confidential.
Legal specialists say seeking and obtaining a restraining order is unusual in cases involving confidential information. Usually, both sides agree in advance to file confidential information under seal such as patents, trademarks or even Social Security numbers of individuals. Although the information can be used in evidence in the case, it’s not part of public record.
The issue of confidentiality most often occurs when employees who were former high-level executives feel wronged and are informed of corporate secrets they promised not to reveal, said Houston employment lawyer Martin Shellist. But, confidentiality agreements cant block an employee — or former employee — from obtaining legal help.
“It doesn’t mean they can’t talk to their lawyer about it,” said Shellist.
Article written by HEI contributor Lydia Ezeakor.