Judge rejects attempt by Woods’ ex-girlfriend to throw out nondisclosure pact

Tiger Woods of the US and his partner Erica Herman leave at the the end of the opening ceremony...
Tiger Woods of the US and his partner Erica Herman leave at the the end of the opening ceremony of the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, outside Paris, France, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. The 42nd Ryder Cup will be held in France from Sept. 28-30, 2018 at Le Golf National. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)(AP)
Published: May. 17, 2023 at 11:40 PM EDT
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A Florida judge ruled late Wednesday that the ex-girlfriend of Tiger Woods must abide by a nondisclosure agreement she purportedly signed and resolve her lawsuits seeking millions from the golf superstar through private arbitration behind closed doors.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Metzger, in an 11-page opinion, rejected Erica Herman's attempt to quash the 2017 agreement by saying Woods had committed sexual harassment against her, calling Herman's allegations "vague and threadbare."

"Herman has had the opportunity (to) provide factual specificity for any claim relating to sexual assault or sexual harassment, however, she has not done so," Metzger wrote.

Metzger also said that the evidence shows that a nondisclosure agreement was negotiated between Herman and Woods in 2017, even if her attorney, Benjamin Hodas, now questions whether she actually signed it.

At a May 9 hearing, Hodas conceded that Herman signed an agreement, but he said she doesn't remember ever seeing the one Woods' attorneys presented to the court.

Metzger said that if Herman unequivocally denied signing the agreement, she would have ordered a hearing on that issue. But since Herman isn't sure if she signed it or not, that is a question for the arbitrator to decide.

Nether Hodas nor Woods' attorney, J.B. Murray, immediately responded to late Wednesday emails seeking comment. It is unknown if Hodas will appeal.

Herman, 39, had sued both Woods, 47, and the trust that owns his $54 million Florida mansion, seeking $30 million from the latter amid unspecified allegations of sexual harassment. Forbes Magazine estimates Woods' net worth at $1.1 billion.

Tiger Woods, assistant United States team captain, and his associate Erica Herman watch play on...
Tiger Woods, assistant United States team captain, and his associate Erica Herman watch play on the 17th hole during the final round of the Presidents Cup golf tournament Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J.

Herman, who managed Woods' Palm Beach County restaurant before and during the first years of their romantic relationship, argues that the nondisclosure agreement is unenforceable under a new federal law that says such contracts can be voided when sexual abuse or sexual harassment occurred.

She alleged in court documents that Woods threatened to fire her if she didn't sign a nondisclosure agreement. Hodas argued that is a type of harassment, treating one employee differently than others because they have a sexual relationship.

But the sexual harassment allegation was barely mentioned during last week's hearing. Metzger told Hodas she needed more information about what allegedly happened to consider it. Hodas said he couldn't provide more information publicly for fear that he would be violating the nondisclosure agreement if it is ultimately upheld.

Murray has called the allegation "utterly meritless."

In Herman's lawsuit against Woods, she asked Metzger to either void the nondisclosure agreement or at least give her guidance about what she can say publicly. She also argued that the contract covers only her work relationship with Woods, not their personal matters.

In her unlawful-eviction lawsuit against the trust, she is basing her $30 million claim on how much it would cost to rent a property like Woods' beachfront mansion north of Palm Beach for the six years of residence she was allegedly promised by the golfer and then denied.

Before they dated, Woods hired Herman in 2014 to help develop and then operate the golfer's The Woods sports bar and restaurant in nearby Jupiter — but they do not agree when their romantic relationship and cohabitation began.

Herman said in her court filings that their romantic relationship began in 2015 and that in late 2016 she moved into Woods' nearly 30,000-square-foot mansion in the ritzy Hobe Sound community. She said that in 2017, Woods verbally promised she could live there at least 11 more years. Herman said Woods pressured her to quit the job in 2020 so she could spend more time taking care of him and his children.

Woods, in his court documents, said their romantic relationship began in 2017 and that she moved in with him that August, about the time the disputed nondisclosure agreement was signed. In March 2017, Woods had put the mansion into the Jupiter Island Irrevocable Homestead Trust, an entity he created that has only himself and his two children as beneficiaries.

Associated Press 2023