eDiscovery Daily Blog

Spoliation Sanctions Can Apply to Audio Files Too – eDiscovery Case Law

In Hart v. Dillon Cos., 2013 U.S. Dist. (D. Colo. 2013), Colorado Magistrate Judge David L. West granted the plaintiff’s Motion for Sanctions for Spoliation of Evidence for failing to preserve a tape recorded interview with the plaintiff and set a hearing and oral argument as to what sanctions should be imposed for October.

As noted in the opinion, here are the facts:

  • On August 23, 2011, the plaintiff was terminated by the defendant for allegedly giving herself the incorrect pay rate while working in the bookkeeping department. As part of the defendant’s investigation, a loss prevention specialist for the defendant secretly tape recorded an interview with the plaintiff on August 6 which in part led to the termination of the plaintiff.
  • On November 1, 2011, the plaintiff filed an E.E.O.C. charge of discrimination.
  • On November 7, 2011, the defendant denied the plaintiff’s request for arbitration knowing the plaintiff would probably litigate the matter.
  • Sometime between January and March of 2012, the loss prevention specialist inadvertently taped over or erased his interview with the plaintiff.
  • On January 30, 2012, the plaintiff filed her Complaint.
  • On March 1, 2012, the defendant issued a litigation hold on all related documentation. Before the contents of the tape were destroyed, Pollard prepared a “case narrative” in writing which the defendant asserts is substantially accurate and the plaintiff claims does not include exculpatory information and the tenor of the interview.

As noted in the opinion, there is a three part test to determine spoliation of evidence:

1. Is the evidence relevant to an issue at trial?

2. Did the party have a duty to preserve the evidence because it knew or should have known, that litigation was imminent?

3. Was the other party prejudiced by the destruction of the evidence?

Judge West found that the interview was relevant as the defendant relied on the interview as part of the decision to terminate the plaintiff.  He also found that the defendant had a duty to preserve the data as far back as November 7, 2011, when the plaintiff’s request for arbitration was denied.  And, he found that the plaintiff was prejudiced by destruction of the audio, noting as many as 21 discrepancies between the defendant’s case narrative and the plaintiff’s stated recollection in her deposition and affidavit.  As he noted:

“Defendant was clearly four (4) months late in issuing a “litigation hold” concerning the tape in Pollard’s possession, and the Court finds Defendant is highly culpable for the failure to preserve the taped interview.

A failure to preserve evidence may be negligent, grossly negligent, or willful. After the duty to preserve attaches, the failure to collect taped recording from a key player is grossly negligent or willful behavior.”

Thus, Judge West granted the plaintiff’s Motion for Sanctions for Spoliation of Evidence and ordered the hearing to determine the sanctions to be applied to the defendant.

So, what do you think?  Did the judge make the right decision?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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