SDNY Denies EEOC Request for Punitive Damages for Document Spoliation
The EEOC recently tried unsuccessfully to obtain punitive damages for spoliation against an employer in EEOC v. Mavis Discount Tire, Inc. et. al., Case No. 12-741 (S.D.N.Y., September 11, 2015).
Plaintiff brought an action against Defendant for violations of Title VII, alleging sex discrimination in its hiring practices against female applicants based upon a pattern of rarely hiring female managers despite the number of applicants. The suit also accused Defendant of failing to follow EEOC requirements for record-keeping. Plaintiff filed a summary judgment motion regarding the merits of the sex discrimination case and the record-keeping violations. Plaintiff also accused Defendant of spoliation for allegedly destroying employee hiring records.
The court denied summary judgment as to the sex discrimination claims. The court also found that summary judgment on the record-keeping issue was not proper and that the issue would go to trial, making the spoliation issue moot. But the court determined that “given the extraordinary remedy” proposed by Plaintiff – namely, an adverse inference instruction that would bring punitive damages – “the issue of spoliation merits some discussion.” For an EEOC record-keeping claim, spoliation does not require a finding of bad faith, but rather that there exist “evidence of intentional destruction.” The court found that issues of fact remained as to whether Defendant had intentionally destroyed records, and that this issue could be re-raised at trial.
Spoliation is a serious matter, and the burden of proof is high. Plaintiffs attempting to show spoliation need to be able to show intent in addition to a duty to preserve.