In a major victory for our client and Lead Plaintiff Jessica Denson, she and the 2016 Trump presidential campaign filed a proposed settlement agreement on Jan. 13, 2023, to forever free all campaign workers formerly bound to silence. Under the settlement agreement, the Trump campaign admits that the non-disclosure and non-disparagement provisions of a form contract (“NDA”) signed by all of the 2016 campaign workers are invalid and unenforceable, conceding that Ms. Denson’s precedent-setting victory over the NDA in March 2021 should apply to all signers. Ms. Denson first sued to invalidate the NDA in 2018 as a pro se litigant.

Critically, the settlement goes beyond the Campaign’s recent concessions in this case, ensuring that permanent class-wide invalidation of the NDA has the force of law.  The terms of the proposed settlement will become effective once approved by the court.  

“Trump’s illegal campaign NDAs are the centerpiece of his up-is-down authoritarian dreamworld, where silencers are hailed as champions of free speech, those who weaponize the justice system claim to be its victims, and the followers of would-be dictators shout, ‘Freedom!’ said Jessica Denson. “We held this lawlessness to account when I prevailed over my NDA, and have now reached a groundbreaking concession from the most dangerous campaign in American history to end this censorship for once and for all. Accountability is achievable, and Donald J. Trump is not above the law.¨

To ensure that the illegal provisions will never be enforced, the parties have asked the Court to enter an order permanently enjoining any and all enforcement against all former campaign workers. Pending approval of the Court, all former staffers, independent contractors and volunteers will now be free to speak their minds regarding the campaign, without fear of enforcement of the NDA by anyone, including Donald Trump. The settlement agreement would resolve a class-action lawsuit brought by Jessica Denson, a former Trump campaign staffer, represented by Protect Democracy, Bowles & Johnson PLLC, and Ballard Spahr LLP. The agreement can be found here.

John Langford, counsel for Protect Democracy, praised the proposed settlement for assuring protection for all those who signed the Trump campaign’s form NDA as well as for preventing the use of such overly broad speech restrictions in future political campaigns. “Today’s proposed settlement would be a victory for Jessica, everyone who signed this NDA, and our democracy. It is a natural extension of some of the most important First Amendment cases, making clear that abusing contract law to silence critics is just as problematic as abusing defamation law. Jessica’s case is already a vital, enduring precedent that unlimited NDAs concerning candidates and public officials are anathema to our profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” 

“Today marks a total surrender by the Trump campaign on a point that was always obvious: this NDA was unenforceable under the law, and the campaign workers should never have had to live under its shadow,” said David Bowles of Bowles & Johnson PLLC. “Jessica has spent years of her life achieving this goal, and finally the public will see the benefits of her hard work.”

“Today’s proposed settlement agreement would be the death knell for a contract that never should have been drafted. In some ways, this was a technical dispute, turning on black-letter contract and employment law, and we won that dispute handedly. But stepping back, this case is about more than that. We cannot permit a politician with authoritarian leanings to silence his critics by weaponizing contracts,” said Joe Slaughter, an attorney at Ballard Spahr LLP

Protect Democracy, Bowles & Johnson PLLC, and Ballard Spahr LLP filed the lawsuit on behalf of Jessica Denson and other former 2016 Trump campaign workers to put a stop to the campaign’s ongoing efforts to silence its former workers, and to make clear that public officials and candidates for office cannot use campaign NDAs to forever strip workers of their right to participate in public debate. 

Statements from Experts

Statements from Experts

“The 2016 Trump campaign demanded that employees and volunteers sign shockingly broad non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements. The non-disparagement clause, for example, purports to bind such persons for life to speak no ill of former President Trump, his family members, or his businesses on pain of significant financial penalty. Such restrictions strike at the very heart of free speech and democratic government.”

Heidi Kitrosser, Robins Kaplan Professor of Law, University of Minnesota Law School

People with wealth and power have for far too long abused nondisclosure agreements to suppress information of vital public importance, including information about dangerously defective products, violent sexual predators, and, in the case of Trump’s wildly excessive NDAs, about a candidate for the nation’s highest office. It is time for courts to end this abuse.

Alan Garfield, Distinguished Professor of Law, Widener University Delaware Law School

“Employers are increasingly turning to overbroad and unlawful nondisclosure agreements to silence employees. The Trump Campaign’s nondisclosure agreements are particularly troubling, as they prevent the public from learning critical information about a candidate for public office.”

– Orly Lobel, Warren Distinguished Professor of Law, University of San Diego School of Law

“Employers are increasingly turning to overbroad and unlawful nondisclosure agreements to silence employees. The Trump Campaign’s nondisclosure agreements are particularly troubling, as they prevent the public from learning critical information about a candidate for public office.”

– Rod Smolla, Dean and Professor of Law, Widener University Delaware Law School

*Institutional affiliations for identification purposes only

Case Documents

Recent Case Documents

Featured Press

Featured Press

Trump 2016 Campaign to Pay $450,000 to Settle Non-Disclosure Case

By Zoe Tillman, Bloomberg
Former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign agreed to pay $450,000 to settle a years-long legal fight over non-disclosure agreements that it required workers and volunteers sign, new court documents show.
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Trump long has relied on nondisclosure deals to prevent criticism. That strategy may be unraveling.

By Michael Kranish, The Washington Post
These NDAs are representative of the levers of fear that this campaign and administration wield over people,” Denson told The Washington Post. “And if this lever of these NDAs is lifted, it is significant not only for the direct effect it has on people who have signed it, but for a general environment of people who are afraid to speak out.

Trump 2016 Staff Can Now Talk About What They Saw on Campaign

By Zoe Tillman, Bloomberg
A federal judge in Manhattan last year declared those confidentiality and nondisparagement clauses “invalid and unenforceable” as applied to the former staffer who brought the case, Jessica Denson. Denson’s lawyers have since moved ahead with efforts to get the suit certified as a class action. On Tuesday, campaign attorney Jared Blumetti filed a letter with a declaration signed in June by a campaign committee official stating that they would not “ever enforce or attempt to enforce any confidentiality or non-disparagement provisions contained in any written agreements signed by any employees, independent contractors, or volunteers who worked for the campaign on the 2016 Presidential Election.”

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Current United States Authoritarian Threat Index score: 2.1/5 Significant Threat

The Score Breakdown

  • Civil Liberties 2/5 • Significant Threat