Employment law surrenders to basic instinct

Employment lawyers have a great deal to thank Hollywood actor Michael
Douglas for, according to a leading employment law advocate.

Disclosure highlighted sexual harassment in the workplace, Wall Street
showed the damage done when a key employee leaves and engages in competitive
activity. Now with Douglas v Hello!, his dispute with the magazine about his
wedding photographs, gives employment lawyers a masterclass on the law of
confidence and privacy, said Paul Goulding QC of Blackstone Chambers addressing
the Employment Lawyers’ Association in London on December 4.

OK! magazine had undertaken to pay Michael Douglas and his bride, Catherine
Zeta Jones, a large sum for exclusive rights to publish wedding photographs.

OK! asserted that rival publication Hello! offered three times the
contractual sum but that the couple trusted OK! to publish only the images they
wanted published. On 20 November 2000, two days after the wedding, Zeta Jones
warned OK! that Hello! was about to publish unauthorised photographs. An
interim injunction was obtained but Hello! appealed and the Court of Appeal
discharged the injunction. Hello! published its spoiling issue three days
before OK!’s.

Goulding QC commented: "The decision is of considerable significance to
employment lawyers. Douglas v Hello! demonstrates the common law’s capacity to
develop established doctrines and apply them to unprecedented situations. It
also illustrates the growing importance of the law of privacy, often a close
relation of the law of confidence.

"Adapting well-established principles to a changing technological
environment, coupled with the impact of the Human Rights Act, both
substantively and procedurally, means that this field is particularly ripe for
further development under the influence of creative and ingenious arguments
from employment lawyers."

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