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Claimant's sexual harassment charge dismissed because he deleted e-mails from computer

Paul Gillett resigned from his workplace, alleging sexual harassment, and hired an attorney.  The employer immediately sent a demand to Gillett's attorney, claiming the right to examine Gillett's personal e-mails on his laptop computer.  The attorney agreed to maintain the computer, but when it was examined the IT forensic specialist determined that massive amounts of data had been deliberately removed.  Gillett claimed that he had made only routine adjustments to the computer and argued that under a newly-adopted court rule, he could not be sanctioned for failing to preserve the electronically-stored data.

The trial court, after hearing the testimony, determined that the data could not have been lost as a result of routine maintenance and therefore held that the applicable court rule did not protect Gillett from sanction.  It pointed out that a litigant never has the right to unilaterally determine what evidence is "relevant" to a case.  On that basis, the court dismissed Gillett's lawsuit as a sanction for "spoliation" of evidence.  He appealed, and his employer appealed the court's refusal to award money damages. The appellate court upheld both decisions of the lower court.  The case is Gillett v. Michigan Farm Bureau, et al.

It is perhaps noteworthy that just last year, the appellate courts refused to recognize an independent cause of action against insurers for "spoliation of evidence" that denies an insured the ability to prove a claim.

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