Sanctions for Altering Medical Records
(CN) - A federal court sanctioned a woman and her attorney, after she falsified her mental health records to hide her history of mental health treatment and abusive childhood.
Lynn Johnson, a former employee of BAE System Information Solutions, sued her former employer and former supervisor Thomas Schiller, alleging sexual harassment while she was deployed to Iraq.
She claimed the harassment caused her anxiety and depression, and required her to seek medical treatment in Iraq and in the United States.
But after a number of discovery mishaps, defendants noticed that a duplicate copy of Johnson's records sent by her counsel, Harry Jordan, varied in several places with the original copy.
Examination revealed that Johnson had deleted her family's history of mental illness, her pre-deployment prescription history, and mentions of her physical abuse as a child.
Johnson also fabricated new entries, adding "No medication prior to deployment Dec. 2010-June 2011," the word "happy" to her family history, and symptoms such as "experiencing migraines ... disturbed sleep."
Attorney Jordan sent the second, unaltered copy after Johnson told him what she had done, but did not include any explanation for the additional copy, and left defendants to discover Johnson's tampering themselves.
The District of Columbia District court granted defendants' motion for sanctions against Johnson and Jordan, finding that "the record establishes not only that Ms. Johnson provided [defendant's expert] Dr. Siebert with falsified treatment records, but also reveals that her counsel, Mr. Jordan, failed to certify the plaintiff's discovery response and then failed to investigate and correct this deficient and misleading response."
Given his client's confession to falsifying the documents, Jordan had a duty to investigate whether the discovery materials he sent to defendants was authentic.
"Yet far from making a reasonable inquiry as to whether those falsified documents had actually been produced, Mr. Jordan continued to isolate himself from the discovery process; he instructed Ms. Johnson to obtain the original medical records from [her physician] Dr. Hayden, which Mr. Jordan then forwarded to BAE," U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins wrote.
But Wilkins refused to dismiss the case.
"Plaintiff's misconduct, though egregious, contaminates only the facts in support of her damages claim. As BAE concedes, '[Plaintiff's] discovery abuses and lies do not directly pertain to the issue of liability.' Thus, at this stage of the litigation, the plaintiff's discovery misconduct has not tainted her theory of liability, and therefore dismissal of her case is not commensurate with her misconduct," Wilkins ruled.
As a sanction, Wilkins ordered Johnson and Jordan to pay a percentage of defendants' attorneys fees for the time spent reviewing and contesting Johnson's false and misleading discovery responses.
He also granted BAE the right to instruct the jury that it may find the Johnson has failed to make a full disclosure of her mental health history.