Erica Herman vs. Tiger Woods explained: ‘It’s a serious allegation that she’s making’

Initial headlines in the wake of the filing focused on the suggestion of potential sexual harassment or sexual assault allegations, but the truth remains hidden.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 31: Erica Herman and Tiger Woods look on prior to the Women's Singles Second Round match  between Anett Kontaveit of Estonia and Serena Williams of the United States on Day Three of the 2022 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 31, 2022 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Erica Herman and Tiger Woods were involved in a relationship for around six years, dating back to 2017. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Seeking both financial compensation and a release from a nondisclosure agreement, Erica Herman has filed two lawsuits against former partner Tiger Woods and his holdings in the wake of their breakup last fall.

While the initial headlines in the wake of the filing focused on the lurid suggestion of potential sexual harassment or sexual assault allegations, the truth remains hidden for the moment.

Woods and Herman dated for about six years, during which she was often present at his side and in the company of his children at marquee events, including majors. They broke up last October, and Woods then allegedly had her locked out of the mansion the two had shared, according to court documents obtained by Yahoo Sports.

Herman initially filed a lawsuit last fall in the Circuit Court of the 19th Judicial Circuit in Martin County, Florida, against the Jupiter Island, Florida, homestead trust which Woods controls, seeking damages of $30 million. In that lawsuit, Herman claimed she had an “oral tenancy agreement” to remain in the home for an additional five years after the breakup. She also charged that the trust misappropriated $40,000 in cash that belonged to her, making “scurrilous and defamatory allegations how she obtained the money.”

In the lawsuit, Herman claims that the “duties that were performed by, and expected of, [Herman] were extensive and of an extraordinary nature in light of the overall circumstances and environment in which she lived.”

Herman claims that she was locked out of the house via “trickery” of agents of the trust, who — Herman claims — “convinced the Plaintiff to pack a suitcase for a short vacation and, when she arrived at the airport, they told her she had been locked out of her residence, in violation of the oral tenancy agreement and in violation of Florida law.” Herman then alleged that Woods’ agents put her up in a hotel room and “without legal counsel to aid in her in this emotional moment, … utilized a lawyer to confront her with proposals to resolve the wrongdoing they were in the midst of committing.”

The trust has responded by contending that Herman attempted to sidestep the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) by suing the trust rather than Woods himself, a move the trust contends is an attempt to "gain leverage by litigating her disputes with Mr. Woods in a public forum." The trust was established in 2017, with Woods and his children as its beneficiaries and Woods’ Jupiter Island home as its sole asset.

“Ms. Herman alleges she negotiated the oral tenancy agreement with an ‘agent(s)’ of the trust. In reality, Ms. Herman was invited to live in the Residence while she was in a relationship with her former boyfriend, Eldrick Woods, who continues to live in the Residence with his two children,” the trust said in a motion seeking to force arbitration. “After Mr. Woods recently terminated the relationship, Ms. Herman was advised that she was no longer welcome in the Residence.”

Herman is seeking damages in excess of $30 million, given her expected residence at the home of an additional five years and the “substantial monthly rental value of the Residence.”

Earlier this week, Herman filed a separate suit against Woods directly, seeking release from an NDA she signed at the outset of their relationship in 2017. That NDA, although heavily redacted in court documents, mandated that any disputes between Woods and Herman be resolved via arbitration.

Herman invoked a new provision — informally known as the Speak Out Act — seeking release from the NDA. Passed by Congress in November 2022 and signed into law by President Biden in December, the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault And Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 is designed to protect the rights of victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault. In other words, an NDA can potentially be invalidated based on accusations of sexual harassment or assault.

“Because the law is so new, there have been no courts that have decided the issue — though the law is fairly clear,” says Chris Anulewicz, an Atlanta attorney with extensive experience in contract law. “I expect that where the law applies, victims will successfully employ the Act to invalidate such NDAs.”

The Speak Out Act defines sexual assault as “nonconsensual sexual act or sexual contact” and defined sexual harassment as conduct that meets harassment standards “under applicable federal, tribal or state law.”

“It’s a serious allegation that she’s making,” Anulewicz says. “She’s got to have something to support it.”

Herman’s lawsuit specifically does not indicate that Woods committed sexual assault or harassment. Instead, the lawsuit seeks to use the Speak Out Act to release her from the NDA.

“Because of the aggressive use of the Woods NDA against her by the Defendant and the trust under his control, the Plaintiff is unsure whether she may disclose, among other things, facts giving rise to various legal claims she believes she has,” Herman’s filing states. “She is also currently unsure what other information about her own life she may discuss or with whom. There is therefore an active dispute between the Plaintiff and the Defendant for which the Plaintiff needs a clarifying declaration from the court.”

An NDA would not bar an individual from filing a sexual assault or harassment lawsuit directly. “Typically NDAs do not limit your legal rights to pursue legal rights in court or to report crimes to authorities,” Anulewicz says. “You just cannot talk about them outside the court. There may be a protective order barring public review of the information.”

It’s possible, Anulewicz notes, that depending on the wording of the NDA — which, again, is heavily redacted in court documents — the sexual assault or harassment allegations could apply to someone other than Woods. “If the NDA said, ‘You’re not allowed to make comments about me or anyone employed by me, including my staff,’ then it could implicate other people at the house or around Woods,” Anulewicz says.

At its heart, an NDA is a contract between two people, a quid pro quo agreement in which both parties agree to maintain confidentiality in return for certain benefits — which can include everything from living arrangements to employment arrangements. It isn’t unusual for someone of Woods’ stature to require an entire range of individuals in their orbit to sign NDAs. “People with high net worth, high public exposure, they may have NDAs for all different kinds of reasons, all different kinds of people employed by them,” Anulewicz says. “God only knows what the cook is going to see, or the gardener is going to see.”

Woods has until March 27 to respond to Herman’s complaint. He has faced an array of legal and personal difficulties that began with the disclosure of his infidelity in 2009 and subsequent divorce from his wife Elin Nordegren in 2010. He has also been involved in a number of driving-related issues, most recently a single-car crash in 2021 that left him with significant, career-altering injuries.

Regarding Herman’s case, the gravity of the allegations now places a substantial burden of proof on her shoulders. “It’s important for her attorneys to tread lightly,” Anulewicz says. “If she pulls out this act, people are going to be saying that there must be something pretty bad that’s happened. But she also seems to be proceeding very cautiously. I wouldn’t rush to judgment on any of this.”