What Can Happen If a Defendant Withholds Evidence?

Age Discrimination
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Litigation is like a boxing match. Both fighters are expected to punch as hard and as quickly as they can while trying to avoid blows from the other. But there are rules in boxing. As hard fought and as brutal as boxing can be, if a fighter breaks enough rules, the other boxer will be declared the winner of the match.

The civil legal system is based on the assumption that the parties will act in good faith and do as the judge instructs them or as the rules of civil procedure or law permit. Each side may fight very hard to protect its interests, but ultimately, there are rules that need to be followed. The exchange of evidence by both sides is critical to the fair outcome of a case. If a defendant decides not to follow the rules or an order by a judge, it risks being knocked out of the case.

Within certain legal bounds, a party can object to evidence being released or used at trial. But ultimately, if the party argues as to why evidence should not have to be released or used and the judge disagrees, the party needs to do what it is told to do. If the party is ultimately harmed by the judge’s decision, it may form the basis of an appeal.

If a party disobeys an order concerning evidence, penalties are likely to follow. Plaintiffs who refuse to follow the rules and defy a judge’s order concerning evidence could find their lawsuit dismissed. Similarly, defendants may not have a chance to dispute their responsibility and could automatically be found liable. In that case, the only thing left to be resolved is the damages. As we discuss in today’s blog, a defendant’s refusal to produce evidence caused serious problems in a recent age discrimination case involving Daimler Trucks North America, LLC.

Truck Company’s Defense of Age Discrimination Claim Runs Into a Ditch

In June, a jury imposed a $1.2 million damage award against Daimler in Oregon state court, according to a report from The Oregonian. The judge ruled that because the defendant willfully and in bad faith refused to provide critical evidence consisting of PowerPoint presentations about tactics for reducing its workforce to the plaintiff’s attorneys, the company was liable for age discrimination. The judge left it up to the jury to decide the damages.

Here’s what led up to the court’s decision. In 2014, then 58-year-old engineer Josef Loczi filed a lawsuit against Daimler, his former employer, asserting that the company laid him off earlier that year and refused to hire him into another position because of his age, according to The Oregonian. His legal complaint stated the following facts:

  • Loczi started working for the company in 1997 and worked in various management positions over the years. In 1999, Loczi was promoted to senior project engineer and built the company’s ergonomics department.
  • During his time with the company, Loczi “received excellent performance evaluations and his initiatives received widespread company support.” He was not told of any performance problems or put on a performance-improvement plan during his tenure.
  • In 2012, Loczi was made the manager of engineering strategy and market intelligence, reporting to Randy DeBortoli, Daimler’s chief engineer of cab systems.
  • The next year, Wilfried Achenbach, Daimler’s senior vice president of engineering and technology, held a meeting with his chief engineers, including DeBortoli.
  • Achenbach “instructed them to each identify four ‘Level 4’ managers to force out of the company. The vast majority of the Level 4 managers subsequently identified for termination by the Chief Engineers were over the age of 50.”
  • Loczi was a Level 4 manager. In November 2013, the company informed Loczi that his position was being eliminated. DeBortoli told him that his work performance and conduct had nothing to do with the decision. At trial, Daimler disputed this fact, claiming his performance did play a role in his termination.
  • Loczi was told he could apply for other jobs within the company. He did so 16 times unsuccessfully.
  • His lawsuit sought $1.5 million for lost wages, $250,000 for lost fringe benefits, and $2 million for mental and emotional distress and damage to his reputation.

Daimler told Loczi he had until the end of 2013 to find another job internally. After two extensions of that deadline, Daimler fired him on February 14, 2014. That day, Daimler also asked him to sign a waiver stating that he would not try to work for the company again. Loczi’s attorney told the jury that was when it became clear Daimler’s “charade” was over—the company never intended to rehire Loczi.

The case is not over. Another trial is scheduled to decide whether Daimler should pay punitive damages and, if so, how much. The company says it will appeal the decision. Daimler does not think the missing presentations affected Loczi’s case and believes the judge should have chosen a less severe penalty for its failure to produce them.

Summing It Up

Both sides need to play by the rules when it comes to turning over evidence. A lawsuit may be won or lost not on the facts or law of the case but by the order of a judge who decides a party is acting in bad faith and not following the rules.

Not complying with a court’s order instructing a party to turn over evidence can have a host of negative results:

  • dismissal of the claim,
  • entry of judgment against the defendant,
  • the exclusion of testimony of expert or other witnesses, or
  • instructions to the jury to draw adverse inferences against the noncompliant party.

Laws and rules concerning these penalties vary from state to state.

Just as parties need to disclose evidence during litigation, honesty is the best policy when talking to an attorney about a possible discrimination claim. If you believe you have been discriminated against in the workplace, contact our office so we can discuss your situation. When you call, do not withhold facts from us. We need to know what happened, especially if you have said or done things that may make your legal claims more difficult, so we can give you an honest assessment of how the law may apply to you and of your best options for protecting your legal rights.