You may have a duty to preserve original documents in discrimination cases

Posted March 2012 in Litigation by Sharon Lopez

In January 2012 The Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion reversing a district court because it abused its discretion in dismissing a case where the plaintiff failed to produce original documents rather than copies.  Bull v. UPS, 665 F.3d 68 (3d Cir. 2012).   Failure to produce original documents when requested may be considered spoliation and the court could sanction or punish you. In the Bull case, the employee was hurt at work.  She brought doctor’s notes into work so the employer could reinstate her.  The employer found problems with these notes; when it requested a third note, the employee sued. During discovery, the employee turned over copies of the notes in response to general discovery requests. At trial, when the employer objected to introduction of copies of the notes, the employee stated that the originals were in her home but that she had not searched for them.  The trial court dismissed the case asserting the plaintiff failed to provide original documents that were previously requested by the defendant employer.  Although the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal as too harsh, the case teaches a valuable lesson about preserving and producing original documents.  If you are contemplating a lawsuit against your employer make sure to carefully store and preserve all documents you plan to rely on.  Intentional actions to destroy relevant documents may result in dismissal of your claim or other lesser but just as damaging results.   For more information about spoliation and how courts respond to such motions review the Federal Judicial Center Report on Motions and Sanctions Based on Spoliation of Evidence in Civil Cases: http://www.uscourts.gov/uscourts/RulesAndPolicies/rules/DallasMiniConf_Empirical_Data/Federal%20Judicial%20Center.pdf

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