Southern District of Indiana Denies Sanctions Motion Based upon Lack of Bad Faith
In Martin v. Stoops Buick, Inc. et. al., Case No. 14-00298 (S.D. Ind., Apr. 25, 2016), Plaintiff, a former employee of Defendant Stoops Buick, sued Defendants for wrongful termination, alleging that Defendant Trauner fired her because of her race and religion. Plaintiff, a payroll clerk, is a Chinese immigrant and a Buddhist. Plaintiff worked at Stoops for nearly a year as a part-time employee but was offered full time employment in February 2013. However, she did not start full-time work until after giving two weeks’ notice to her second job. Her full-time work began February 11, 2013. On February 25, 2013, Trauner fired Plaintiff and replaced her with a different employee who was American-born, white and Christian. Plaintiff filed an EEOC charge a week later, and Defendants were notified on March 7. EEOC dismissed the charge after hearing from both sides, and Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in February 2014. During the case, Plaintiff filed a sanctions motion, claiming that Defendants had improperly disposed of her work computer as well as emails relating to her claims.
Stoops’ corporate policy preserves the backup files of terminated employees for only 30 days. After Plaintiff’s termination, Trauner claimed she asked the IT department for Plaintiff’s email files and that IT said they had been deleted. None of Stoops’ employees remember receiving a request to delete any of the files. Trauner claimed she had deleted the emails with the new employee because her mailbox gets too full.
Plaintiff’s expert testified that Plaintiff’s emails should be saved on the exchange server and that deleting them permanently would take some affirmative act.
The court found that Defendants had a duty to preserve evidence and that such duty was breached when the emails were deleted after March 7, when Defendants received the EEOC charge. However, the court did not find bad faith, noting that Plaintiff’s expert testified that the deletions were not in bad faith. Because a lack of bad faith was found, the court denied Plaintiff’s motion.