Don’t Hit That Delete Button: An Update On Litigation Holds For Employment Claims, by Andrew P. Sherrod, Inside Counsel Magazine
By now, most companies are — or at least should be — well aware of their obligation to preserve relevant documents and electronic information when they reasonably anticipate litigation. This duty can arise in many contexts, but employment complaints are a prime example. Despite the multitude of judicial decisions and articles on the subject, companies continue to hinder their defense of employment claims by failing to undertake appropriate preservation measures.
The consequences of failing to implement and monitor a litigation hold in response to an employment claim were reinforced in a recent decision from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in Hawley v. Mphasis Corp.
In Hawley, an employee of the defendant company claimed that he was discriminated against on the basis of his ethnicity in a number of ways during the course of his employment. The employee filed an EEOC charge of race and national origin discrimination in September 2009. The company terminated the employee in November 2009, and he thereafter filed a second EEOC charge, which was mailed to the company in December 2009. The employee then filed a discrimination suit in January 2012 against the company under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and state civil rights laws.
During his employment, the plaintiff received a company-issued laptop computer on which he was required to perform his work. After his termination, the employee returned the computer to the company in December 2009. The next month, the company reassigned the computer to another employee, permanently deleting all of the plaintiff’s data.
The company also waited until April 2012 — almost three months after the filing of the plaintiff employee’s lawsuit and more than two years after his EEOC charges — to instruct the plaintiff’s supervisor and several other employees to preserve all documents and communications related to the plaintiff. . . .