Douglas Gotterba succeeds in at least being able to challenge a former employment agreement
In 1981, John Travolta starred in “Blow Out” and flew with pilot Douglas Gotterba — at least one of those decisions has come back to haunt him.
During his employment termination from Atlo Inc. in spring 1987, Gotterba may or may not have signed a confidentiality agreement from his time with the company — it depends on which party you believe.
After a decision Tuesday in the California 2nd District Court of Appeal, Gotterba will at least get to present his case to pen a tell-all book about his time with Atlo and Travolta.
Gotterba will tell you that his voluntary departure resulted in a three-page termination agreement dated March 17, 1987 that “does not contain a confidentiality provision restricting Gotterba’s disclosure of personal, confidential, or proprietary information obtained during the course of his employment with Atlo.”
Meanwhile, Atlo insists that the enforceable agreement is actually a four-page document signed on April 3, 1987, which includes the following provision: “You hereby represent that you have not and will not disclose, communicate, use, nor permit the use of, in any fashion, any personal (i.e., those matters not customarily disclosed by Employer other than to insiders, in the case of [Atlo], or close friends in the case of Travolta), confidential or proprietary information about Employer or any principals of Employer that you obtained during your employment with Employer.”
That extra few weeks, additional page and specific clause make for a big difference, as Gotterba told gossip magazine The National Enquirer that he was writing a memoir about his personal relationship with Travolta. When Atlo’s attorney, Marty Singer, learned about Gotterba’s intention, he sent a cease-and-desist letter to Gotterba, threatening “serious legal consequences.”
Singer wrote: “We demand that you immediately cease and desist from your wrongful course of conduct which has subjected you to enormous liability and entitles my client to seek tens of millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages … You proceed at your peril.”
Since then, the two have been fighting over which agreement is valid. Gotterba says Atlo’s version of the agreement “is not authentic.”
On Feb. 1, Atlo filed an anti-SLAPP motion in an attempt to counter Gotterba’s complaint. The trial court denied the motion. Atlo appealed and lost once more.
“Acceptance of Atlo’s arguments would lead to the absurd result that a person receiving a demand letter threatening legal action for breach of contract would be precluded from seeking declaratory relief to determine the validity of the contract,” the Court of Appeal of the State of California’s Second Appellate District, Division Six wrote on Tuesday.
Gotterba is set to recover costs on his appeal, the court ruled Tuesday. However, Travolta’s lawyers say they will continue to fight his claim.
“While we believe the Court should have thrown out Gotterba’s lawsuit at the outset, ultimately, he will not prevail on his claim,” attorney Andrew B. Brettler of the firm Lavely & Singer said in a statement given to TheWrap. “Gotterba points to an unsigned draft agreement, which he now claims is the controlling document in the case, yet he attached as an exhibit to his own complaint the final version of the contract that he signed barring his claim. We are very confident that in the end we will prevail in the action,” the statement continued.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report