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Metadata Plays Key Role in $10.8 Million Whistleblower Lawsuit Verdict: eDiscovery Case Law

Earlier this month, federal jurors awarded nearly $8 million to the former general counsel of a company who says he was fired because he blew the whistle on his company’s potential violation of a foreign bribery law.  That award will increase to $10.8 million because the Dodd-Frank Act authorizes the doubling of back pay for whistleblower retaliation.

An article in The Recorder (Ousted Bio-Rad GC Wins Whistleblower Case, written by David Ruiz) stated that a federal jury sided with former Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc. general counsel Sanford “Sandy” Wadler in his whistleblower retaliation lawsuit against the company, after deliberating for less than three hours.

The jury awarded Wadler $2.9 million in back pay and stock compensation and $5 million for punitive damages.

“I’m extraordinarily grateful to the jury for its very thoughtful verdict in finding that whistleblowers need protection,” lead attorney James Wagstaffe (of law firm Kerr & Wagstaffe) said immediately after the verdict was read. “You’re not supposed to fault whistleblowers for raising legitimate concerns about potential corruption.”

Wagstaffe also said that back pay damages are doubled, increasing the total award to $10.8 million.

Wadler, who was fired from his post at Bio-Rad in June 2013, maintained that he was forced out because he blew the whistle on potential Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations by the company in China.  Jurors found that Wadler’s whistleblowing activities were a significant reason the company fired him in June of that year.

Wadler’s lawyers at Kerr & Wagstaffe were able to undermine some company testimony by pointing to a lack of documentation about Wadler’s alleged outbursts, partly by repeatedly returning to the last review that Wadler received while on the job in December 2012, which was largely positive.

A key aspect of the jury’s decision related to the metadata associated with Wadler’s most recent performance evaluation, which was apparently dated in April 2013.  Before the jury reached its verdict, it asked about the timing of that performance evaluation. According to Wagstaffe, metadata showed the performance evaluation was actually created in July 2013, a full month after Wadler’s termination. The jury asked if the date referred to the document’s creation or its modification. It referred to creation, said U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero, who presided over the case.

In an interview with Courthouse News, Wagstaffe said the metadata evidence helped tip the scale in Wadler’s favor and that the “fake job review” (his words, not mine) was a major piece of evidence that helped tip the scale.

Hat tip to Sharon Nelson at Ride the Lightning for her post about the story.

So, what do you think?  Can metadata prove when a document was created?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

P.S. — Happy Valentine’s Day!

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