Bad faith required for spoliation instruction, holds Tenth Circuit
There is a general requirement that parties not destroy evidence; bolstering that, there is a specific requirement in EEOC regulation 29 CFR 1602.14 that employers preserve personnel records for 1 year and that the parties in an EEOC charge preserve evidence until final disposition of the charge.
In this case, the EEOC and plaintiffs argued that an Excel file contained information that was allowed to be destroyed as the file was routinely updated. Additionally notes of a meeting were at-issue. The employer’s witnesses testified that they did not know how the records had been lost and, further, that, even if they hadn’t been destroyed, they had never contained evidence relevant to the case at-issue. The EEOC argued it should, nonetheless, be entitled to a presumption that the records would have been helpful to its case, and further that the jury should be so instructed. Such an instruction is called a “spoliation” instruction.
The Tenth Circuit reviewed its precedents and held that, first, a litigant must show the destroying party did so in bad faith. Merely allowing records to be destroyed is not sufficient to warrant a spoliation instruction. The EEOC responded that, unlike general litigants, it should, even despite the lack of bad faith, be entitled to a spoliation instruction because, whatever the employer’s intent had been, it had allowed the records to be destroyed in violation of that regulation. The Tenth Circuit rejected the argument that a spoliation instruction should be a remedy for such a violation absent bad faith, noting that was especially true where, as here, the EEOC and plaintiffs failed to produce any evidence countering the employer’s evidence that, if the records had been preserved, there was nothing helpful to the EEOC and plaintiffs in them.
Source: EEOC v. JetStream Ground Services, Inc., case no. 17-1003 (10th Cir. 12/28/17).