March 16, 2023
The entire justice system is based on the fundamental premise that everyone coming before the Courts is being honest in their presentation. Although social media may have us questioning things, the concept of swearing under the penalties of perjury plays a very serious role in litigation. Last week, a plaintiff who proffered a fake email in support of her case found out the hard way how seriously the courts take this principle.
A social worker in North Carolina sued her ex-employer, claiming that she was fired for complaining that her employer didn't comply with certain federal requirements. After denying those allegations, the employer counterclaimed, alleging the plaintiff was stealing gift cards intended for HUD clients.
As the case progressed, the plaintiff threatened to seek sanctions and produced an email purportedly from her former supervisor which appeared to direct the plaintiff to provide the gift cards to HUD clients and assemble 300 kits that included such cards.
Shocked by this revelation, the employer did some digging and engaged a third-party, unaffiliated computer forensic expert to search the employer’s server. The forensic expert was unable to find that such an email was ever created or sent by the supervisor. More alarming, the expert did find emails sent by the same supervisor around the same time which used a different signature block than the email produced by the plaintiff.
The employer presented this information to the federal judge requesting dismissal of the plaintiff's case and default judgment on its counterclaims. Needless to say, the judge was not pleased. Among other sanctions, the judge
· Granted default judgment to the employer on its counterclaims.
· Struck the plaintiff's request for punitive, liquidated, and treble damages.
· Ruled that the plaintiff could not use the fabricated email in support of her case.
· Ruled that the employer could use the email to attack the plaintiff's credibility and that the plaintiff was prohibited from claiming that the email was authentic.
· Awarded attorneys' fees to the employer.
This case reminds us of what our coaches and mentors told us growing up, “Winners never cheat and cheaters never win.”