Film actor John Travolta will face former employee Douglas Gotterba in a trial at Santa Barbara Superior Court to decide whether a 28-year-old termination agreement can require Gotterba’s silence about his personal and professional experiences working under Travolta.
In the most recent action on the matter, Judge Donna Geck denied a motion by Travolta’s counsel on June 26 to dismiss the case. In her eyes, the evidence regarding Gotterba’s termination was sufficiently tangled to require a trial in court.
The facts in the case date back to Gotterba’s 2012 National Enquirer interview in which he announced plans to write a tell-all book exposing an alleged six-year affair with Travolta during his employment as a pilot in the 1980s. He claimed the relationship began in 1981 when Travolta offered a massage that quickly escalated into sex. Gotterba told the Enquirer that throughout the course of their relationship, the now 60-year-old actor took him on exotic trips, always with women along to deceive the public about their ongoing affair. According to Gotterba, the affair ended in 1986 after Travolta began to exhibit jealous behavior, often showing up “unannounced” to “check up” on the pilot. Gotterba left his position with Atlo, Inc., Travolta’s aircraft company, in 1987.
The current case in Judge Geck’s courtroom revolves around which of two versions of Gotterba’s termination agreement is authentic — one with the confidentiality text and one without — and is the outcome of cross-complaints between the two sides that ended up in appeal. After the Enquirer interview came out, Travolta’s lawyers sent Gotterba a demand letter citing a breach in confidentiality, and Gotterba then filed a civil complaint against both the actor and Atlo in November 2012. That case eventually landed at the Court of Appeal in July 2014, and the court ruled Gotterba had the right to pursue legal action based on his claim that the termination agreement he signed had no confidentiality clause.
Travolta’s counsel has presented a photocopied version of the 1987 termination agreement with signatures from both parties. This version of the document includes the confidentiality clause that allegedly mandates Gotterba’s silence. Travolta’s attorney, Martin Singer, argued Friday that it was unreasonable to expect an attorney to retain the original copy of an agreement executed 28 years ago. He stated that Tina Kahn, Travolta’s transactional attorney at the time of Gotterba’s resignation, completed an authentication process that satisfies California codes and should not require the original document to be saved.
Gotterba’s shorter version of the agreement, without the confidentiality clause, is the only document he ever received and signed, he says. This agreement includes only his signature. According to Travolta’s counsel, Gotterba’s version is an earlier draft that does not represent the finalized terms of their agreement. Gotterba denies he ever signed a revised agreement or even discussed it with his or Travolta’s lawyers. At Friday’s hearing, Gotterba’s attorney, Stephen Dunkle, maintained that his client “takes issue with the version of the facts given by the defendant.”
But Singer countered, “Mr. Gotterba has not created a triable matter of fact simply by disagreeing with the defendant.” He also questioned why Kahn would draft another version of the agreement if she had understood it to be already signed by Gotterba.
Despite Singer’s arguments, Geck stood by the tentative ruling she had announced the previous day. A trial confirmation hearing has been scheduled for August 7.