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Destruction of Evidence by ADA and FMLA Plaintiff Results in Dismissal of Lawsuit

Published by on December 6, 2012

In a flagrant case of destruction of evidence, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia took the extreme step of dismissing a discrimination plaintiff’s lawsuit in the case of Taylor v. The Mitre Coroporation, Civil Action No. 1:11-cv-1247.  More after the break. On November 21, 2011, computer expert Alan Taylor filed suit […]

In a flagrant case of destruction of evidence, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia took the extreme step of dismissing a discrimination plaintiff’s lawsuit in the case of Taylor v. The Mitre Coroporation, Civil Action No. 1:11-cv-1247.  More after the break.

On November 21, 2011, computer expert Alan Taylor filed suit against The Mitre Corporation, claiming that Mitre failed to reasonably accommodate Taylor’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and that it created a hostile work environment based upon his disability and exercise of his Family and Medical Leave Act rights.  Taylor had been working with an attorney to prepare for the suit since 2009.  At the time, the attorney advised Taylor to preserve all files and documents related to his claims.

At some point, Taylor’s computer hard drive allegedly crashed.  He transferred files to a new laptop, but claims he was only able to recover less than half the files in the transfer.  Then he took a sledgehammer to the old computer and dumped it in the local landfill.

As the case progressed, Mitre received emails from third parties that Taylor should have  produced to Mitre in discovery.  Mitre then petitioned the court to inspect Taylor’s laptop.  A forensic examination of the computer showed Taylor used the software programs Evidence Eliminator and CCleaner to erase over 16,000 computer files and folders.  Evidence Eliminator and CCleaner are programs whose purpose is to delete files so thoroughly that a forensic examination cannot retrieve the files.  Taylor used these programs just days after the court ordered him to produce the computer for inspection.  Consequently, a vast amount of potential evidence was destroyed.

Parties anticipating or involved in litigation are under a duty to preserve evidence.  A company must take steps to insure that no potentially relevant documents are even inadvertently altered, lost or destroyed.  Serious consequences may result from a party’s failure to take proper steps.  In Taylor’s case, the court found his actions to be so egregious as to amount to the forfeiture of his claims, and it dismissed the action.  While dismissal is an unusual result, severe financial penalties may be imposed, or a ruling may be rendered that impairs a company’s ability to defend itself.  Accordingly, companies contemplating litigation should understand their duty to preserve and take care to ensure that documents, in whatever form, are not altered, lost or destroyed.

A copy of the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation can be found here.  The District Court’s Order can be found here.

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