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'Say Yes to the Dress' Designer Says No to Sharing Social Media Accounts

By Vaidehi Mehta, Esq. | Last updated on

Hayley Paige Gutman has recently made headlines for her battle over the ownership rights of her name brand and social media against her former employer.

You don’t have to have been married recently to recognize the name "Hayley Paige." Reality TV junkies might recognize her from the TLC network. While she’s had her own wedding dress line, she’s more broadly recognized for being featured on the TV series Say Yes to the Dress. The popular reality show follows brides-to-be on their emotional journey to find the perfect wedding dress, usually at the iconic Kleinfeld Bridal in New York City.  

On the show, Hayley was featured as a designer with her own bridal line, Hayley Paige Bridal. This meant she had a dedicated "salon" within Kleinfeld Bridal, showcasing her signature gowns to brides seeking a fairytale wedding look. Her designs on the show were known for their whimsical femininity, often incorporating playful tulle, intricate lace, and romantic details. Beyond showcasing her designs, Hayley actively participated in the brides' dress-finding journeys. She offered her expertise as a designer, suggesting styles and flattering silhouettes, but also acted as a trusted friend and confidante and provided emotional support throughout the process.

Bridal Giant JLM

NYC-based JLM Couture is a multi-label bridal house that’s been established for decades. It designs, manufactures, and distributes various collections of bridal gowns, bridesmaid dresses, and even some evening wear. The company creates its dress collections through different designer labels under its umbrella. 

Among other designer lines, JLM had several lines that were designed by Hayley in addition to her signature line, Hayley Paige Bridal. Hayley’s secondary lines that were made through JLM were Blush, aimed at a slightly younger and more budget-conscious bride, featuring simpler designs and lighter fabrics, as well as her line for bridesmaids, Hayley Paige Occasions, and her line for flower girls, La Petite.

JLM’s role was not only to manufacture and distribute these collections to authorized retailers globally, but also to engage with brides via their website and social media, offering information about their gowns and experiences at authorized retailers.

Gutman Goes to Work for JLM

Like many epic employment disputes, Hayley’s gripe with JLM started with a contract. When she started working for the fashion house in 2011, she signed an employment agreement with them in which she agreed to design a bridal wear line in exchange for a base salary plus additional compensation tied to the sales of her designs. She also agreed to provisions that gave JML significant control of her name and brand association. In these provisions, she agreed not to use her name (or any derivatives) in her own business outside of JLM. She agreed that certain categories of “creative material” would become JLM’s property. Finally, she agreed to a noncompete clause that also made her promise not to solicit certain business and disclose certain secret information related to her work with JLM. Her contract also allowed JLM to fire her at any time, but would penalize her for ending the employment contract herself.

When she started working for JLM, Hayley created a Pinterest and an Instagram account using the handle "@misshayleypaige" (a “derivative of her name”). JLM never directed her to make these accounts, and they included her name and personal contact information before her employment at JLM. Despite that, the content on those accounts soon started featuring JLM products prominently and aligned with the company’s business events. Almost immediately, the social media accounts became important marketing tools for JLM, and both Hayley and JLM’s employees used the accounts to promote the company’s bridal wear and engage customers. Promotional posts for the company at large were interspersed with more personal content of Hayley’s, a strategy that JLM later called the “personal glimpse.”

Things Turn Sour Over Social Media

Hayley worked at JLM for several years, and her contract details remained more or less the same for that time. In 2019, she and JLM set out to negotiate certain changes to the contract, but couldn’t come to an agreement. By that time, at least two other employees had access to the Instagram account. That year, Hayley changed the passwords to the social media accounts and refused to give JLM access while telling the company that she wouldn't post anything about its business anymore.

JLM sued her, saying she broke their contract and wrongly took over these social media accounts. Before trial could even get underway, JLM asked the court to order a preliminary injunction giving the company sole control of the two accounts, as well as a preliminary enforcement of a five-year restrictive covenant that would prohibit Hayley from “identifying herself” as a designer of certain goods. Hayley had made a series of posts on her Instagram, and the court found her in contempt. Hayley took the issue up further to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that none of those injunctions should have been granted. At the same time, Hayley changed her name to “Cheval” instead of “Gutman,” to free herself from association with the former name and its affiliation with JLM. She started touting her new brand and social media handle, “She Is Cheval.”

Circuit Court Steps In

The Circuit Court took Hayley’s on the narrow issue that the lower court shouldn’t have granted the injunction that gave JLM control of the designer’s social media accounts. The higher court said that the trial court’s mistake was that they neglected to consider who originally owned the accounts in the first place, instead using a six-factor test to decide if JLM had a right to the accounts. They pointed out that the original owner of the accounts should first be identified before considering if ownership was transferred to JLM through the contract.

Further, the circuit court pointed out that JLM wasn’t asking the trial court to make things the way they once were again, i.e., they weren’t asking to share account access with Hayley. If that were the ask, they would have it easier. Instead, they were asking the court to make it such that JLM had sole access to the account. For this, based on court rules, JLM would need to show that they would suffer “irreparable harm” if the court didn’t grant them access while taking it away from Hayley.

The Second Circuit also ruled that the lower court shouldn’t have granted JLM’s requirement to prohibit Hayley from identifying herself as a designer of certain products based on the restrictive covenant in the contract. The circuit court opted out of deciding some other issues; for example, it said it couldn’t interfere in Hayley’s contempt issue until the litigation was through at the trial court.

What Now?

What does all this mean? Not much. The case has merely been passed back down to the lower court to decide most of the issues in dispute. With both the issue of the control of the accounts and the ban on Hayley identifying herself as the designer, the circuit court just said that there’s a lot more for the lower court to sift through and decide. In other words, they said it was too premature for those questions to be decided in a preliminary injunction, and the trial needs to proceed before those questions can be answered.

Both sides are optimistic. As Hayley sees it, her legal team has “set a productive precedent in the Second Circuit to shield young creatives from facing what I have endured — a monumental achievement." On the other hand, JLM’s CEO seemed pleased with other aspects of the circuit court ruling. He said that he was confident that, in the end, the lower court would reach the same conclusion it did on the preliminary injunctions.

The major change is that Hayley can look forward to her posting on her own Instagram – for now.

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