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Bland v. Sam's East Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Columbus Division

January 31, 2019

JOSHUA BLAND, Plaintiff,
SAM'S EAST, INC., et al., Defendant.



         This Order addresses Plaintiff Joshua Bland's motion regarding Defendants' alleged spoliation of evidence and various motions in limine that the Court ruled upon at the pretrial conference.

         This is a retaliation case. Bland is a white male who was formerly employed as a tire technician at Sam's Club. Before his termination, Bland argued with coworker Edgar Cornell Robinson, a black male. Bland claims Robinson called him a “dumb, redneck, hillbilly, white boy.” Management heard about the argument and asked all the tire technicians to provide written statements about the incident. Bland reported Robinson's comment in his statement and complained that it was racially discriminatory. Bland's supervisor, Walter Capozucca, addressed all the tire technicians and told them to work together. Capozucca took no action against Robinson for his comment to Bland.

         Several days later, Bland reported to work and told Capozucca that he was scheduled to open the shop with Robinson. Bland complained to Capozucca that he had taken no action against Robinson. Bland commented that if he had used the “N word” toward Robinson, Capozucca would have fired him immediately. Bland therefore complained about what he believed to be a disciplinary double standard based on race. Capozucca then told Bland to clock out and go home. Bland later learned that Capozucca had terminated him. Bland returned to the store to try to speak to the store manager, but she refused to see him. Bland then called the Sam's ethics hotline and reported that although he had complained about Robinson's conduct, nothing had been done and he had been terminated.

         Sam's claims it terminated Bland's employment in part because of conduct he displayed in front of Capozucca. Cameras recorded video, but not audio, of Bland's dispute with Robinson and of the interaction between Bland and Capozucca. Sam's destroyed the video footage pursuant to its record retention policy 60 days after the incidents. Bland sued Sam's for discriminatory termination and retaliation. The Court granted summary judgment on Bland's discriminatory termination claim but denied summary judgment on his retaliation claim.

         Bland moved for sanctions (ECF No. 36) based on Sam's destruction and failure to preserve the video footage and Sam's failure to produce the written statement of Bland's coworker and fellow tire technician Ricky Darden.[1] Bland seeks a jury instruction authorizing the jury to draw an adverse inference due to the spoliation of the evidence. The Court granted Bland's motion at the pretrial conference as more fully explained in the remainder of this Order. The Court also made oral rulings on the parties' various motions in limine which are documented in this Order.


         I. Bland's Motion for Sanctions

         A. Legal Standard

         The Court considers the following factors in determining whether to issue sanctions for spoliation of evidence: “(1) whether the party seeking sanctions was prejudiced as a result of the destruction of evidence and whether any prejudice could be cured, (2) the practical importance of the evidence, (3) whether the spoliating party acted in bad faith, and (4) the potential for abuse if sanctions are not imposed.” ML Healthcare Servs., LLC v. Publix Super Mkts., Inc., 881 F.3d 1293, 1307 (11th Cir. 2018). For the third factor, Bland need not show malice to establish Sam's bad faith. Flury v. Daimler Chrysler Corp., 427 F.3d 939, 946 (11th Cir. 2005). Instead, to determine whether a spoliating party acted in bad faith, the Court weighs “the degree of the spoliator's culpability against the prejudice to the opposing party.” Id.[2]

         B. Discussion

         Sam's sets forth the following arguments opposing sanctions: (1) the Darden statement does not exist; (2) Sam's was under no duty to preserve until July 7, 2017, when Bland filed his EEOC charge; (3) even if Sam's had a duty to preserve, it did not extend to the video footage because the footage had no audio; (4) Bland is not prejudiced by the destruction of the evidence; and (5) Sam's did not act in bad faith. The Court addresses these arguments in turn.

         1. Ricky Darden's Statement

         First, Sam's contends Bland failed to carry his burden to show that the Darden statement actually existed. Darden clearly testified that he provided a written statement to Mary Gill, a Sam's employee. Darden Dep 18:12-17, ECF No. 27. Rebecca McCoy, the tire technician team leader, clearly testified that Capozucca told her to collect statements, that she collected a statement from Darden, and that she left Darden's statement (along with several others) in Capozucca's office. McCoy ...

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