Trump’s Campaign Ordered To Pay $350,000 In NDA Case


Donald Trump’s campaign organization was ordered to pay more than $350,000 in legal fees and expenses for trying to enforce an “unenforceable” nondisclosure agreement against former staffer Alva Johnson, according to an order entered this month in a nonpublic arbitration case.

The March 10 order, which was made public this week by Johnson’s attorneys, was the latest setback for the Trump campaign in its effort to use NDAs to try to punish former staffers who publicly criticize or take legal action against Trump. An arbitrator found that even though Johnson’s effort to sue Trump failed — she accused him of trying to forcibly kiss her and raised pay discrimination claims, but the case was tossed out — the campaign couldn’t invoke a legally unsound nondisclosure agreement.

Trump has a history of trying to use arbitration, much of which takes place in private, to try to keep potentially damaging or embarrassing claims out of court, where hearings and documents are generally public. When he ran for president in 2016, many campaign workers were reportedly directed to sign nondisclosure agreements that broadly barred them from sharing information about the campaign or saying negative things about Trump, his family, and his businesses; the agreement specified that the campaign could press complaints about alleged violations of the agreement in arbitration.

In two previous cases, though, a judge and an arbitrator concluded that key sections of that agreement were too vague and ill-defined to be constitutionally enforceable. The arbitrator handling Johnson’s case, Victor Bianchini, a retired federal magistrate judge from California, found those decisions persuasive and dismissed the campaign’s complaint against Johnson late last year. That left a request by Johnson’s lawyers to have the campaign pay their legal bills as the winning party. Bianchini agreed they were entitled to those fees, and ordered the campaign to pay $303,285; the campaign will also have to cover the costs of the arbitration itself, which came to around $50,000.

“The Trump campaign has tried to use its unenforceable NDA to unlawfully silence its critics,” Johnson’s lawyer Hassan Zavareei said in a statement. “We are pleased that the arbitrator has held that these efforts cannot stand and ordered the campaign to compensate our client for the hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees that the campaign forced her to incur.”

Trump campaign lawyer Justin Clark did not immediately return a request for comment.

Bianchini described the case as “procedurally tortured” as he recounted the legal twists that led the fight to come before him. In early 2019, Johnson filed a lawsuit against Trump and his campaign in federal district court — a public case, unlike the private arbitration. Johnson claimed that during a campaign stop in August 2016, Trump had tried to kiss her. In addition to a battery claim related to the kiss incident, Johnson, who is Black, lodged allegations that she’d been paid less than other campaign workers because of her gender and race.

View the order here.