Main Menu
Employment Law Alert: Two Interesting Cases: One Favors The Employer; The Other, The Employee

On September 7, a federal court in Massachusetts dismissed the wrongful discharge lawsuit of an ex-Tyco Electronics Co. employee, James Plasse, as a discovery sanction, after the judge learned Plasse had intentionally destroyed a document on his laptop that had been requested in discovery. Specifically, Tyco claimed that Plasse had falsely claimed on his resume to have an MBA from Western New England College. When asked about his education during his deposition, however, Plasse admitted that he did not, in fact, have an MBA, but had completed some courses toward that degree. Plasse also testified that he believed he still had a copy of his resume on his laptop computer. Tyco then asked Plasse to produce his computer, so that it could have a forensic analysis conducted. Two days before the laptop was to be produced, however, Plasse went into his files and altered some documents -- including the resume. This conduct, said the judge, warranted the imposition of the most severe of discovery sanctions -- dismissal of Plasse’s lawsuit.

In the second case, the plaintiff, Alex Tsakonas, sued his former employer, Nextel, after he was fired from his job as a sales manager, allegedly for poor performance. Although the poor performance appears to have been well documented -- Tsakonas had failed to meet his sales quotas for the last three years of his employment, and had been placed on a performance improvement plan in February of 2003 -- the court found the timing of the termination decision suspicious -- Tsakonas was terminated just one week after he returned from leave under the FMLA. This timing, said the court, was enough to warrant the denial of Nextel’s motion for summary judgment.

Bottom Line

The Tyco decision -- while a favorable outcome for the company -- should serve as a good reminder of the seriousness of one’s obligations under the civil discovery rules. This is especially true today when more and more documents are stored electronically and requests for electronically-stored media (such as e-mails) are becoming more commonplace. The failure to adequately safeguard such media once a lawsuit has been filed, and to make it easily retrievable in discovery, can have dire consequences, including the imposition of hefty sanctions. The second case is a harsh reminder of how bad timing can render even a well thought out and otherwise well executed termination decision troublesome. It appears as though Nextel had a legitimate and well-documented basis for terminating Tsakonas’ employment. But for the unfortunate timing, such evidence would likely have entitled the company to summary judgment.



Recent Posts




Back to Page