No Sanctions for Deleted Email Account in Lowe’s Hostile Work Environment Lawsuit
In Moore v. Lowe’s Home Centers, LLC, Case No. 14-01459 (W.D. Wash., June 24, 2016), Plaintiff sued Defendant for hostile work environment based upon sexual harassment and pregnancy-related discrimination. During her employment, Plaintiff emailed the Human Resources department and other management about her concerns at least 11 different times. At one point, Defendant’s employees exchanged internal correspondence suggesting that Plaintiff might sue. Defendant ultimately terminated Plaintiff in February 2013. Plaintiff retained counsel, who, on April 25, 2013, demanded production of Plaintiff’s personnel file.
On March 30, 2013, Defendant deleted Plaintiff’s email account pursuant to Defendant’s automated system, which deleted employee accounts automatically on a certain date post-termination unless someone intervened. Plaintiff, asserting that Defendant had notice regarding possible litigation at the time of deletion, filed a Motion for Sanctions, seeking entry of a default judgment against Defendant.
The court found that Defendant did not have a duty to preserve Plaintiff’s emails at the time of deletion. Plaintiff had only shown that low level employees had started rumors that Plaintiff might sue, which the court found insufficient to impose a duty to preserve. Accordingly, the court found that Defendant did not act in bad faith. Further, the court found that Plaintiff had suffered minimal prejudice as a result of the destruction. The court held that terminating sanctions were far too drastic and declined to issue less severe sanctions, noting also that Plaintiff had asserted that terminating sanctions were the only acceptable sanctions.