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Court upholds dismissal of retaliation claim


SAN FRANCISCO--A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of an employee's retaliation and discrimination claims because he deliberately destroyed evidence.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Mauricio A. Leon, M.D., vs. IDX Systems Corp. also upheld a $65,000 "monetary spoliation sanction" against the Dr. Leon for destroying evidence in the case.

According to court records, Dr. Leon was put on unpaid leave after he claimed there were irregularities in the financing and reporting of a federally funded project.

Dr. Leon sued the company, charging violations of the False Claims Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Washington state law.

IDX subsequently gave its approval for Dr. Leon to keep his laptop for the specific purpose of responding to auditors, but cautioned that no data should be lost or corrupted.

After the laptop was returned, however, an IDX expert determined that all data in the hard drive's unallocated space had been intentionally wiped, including the deletion of more than 2,200 files, and that the computer had been used to view and download pornography.

The district court dismissed the case because of the evidence destruction and fined Dr. Leon $65,000, which was IDX's submitted cost of investigation and litigation on the spoliation issue.

Dr. Leon "admits that he intended to destroy information, including evidence of pornographic files, but he contends that his intent was merely to protect his privacy," says the decision handed down Wednesday by the San Francisco-based federal appeals court.

"Leon had ample notice, however, that the files he destroyed were not merely 'private' and were potentially relevant to the litigation at hand," the panel said.