Healthcare News & Insights

Hospital sued for sex discrimination over reformatted hard drive

Even routine IT maintenance can cause problems for companies who are asked to provide electronic records in legal cases or similar hearings. That lesson was learned the hard way by one hospital when a personnel issue turned nasty.

Christina Paylan, a surgical resident at St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, CT, complained to HR that she was being discriminated against by a supervisor because of her gender. Not long after, she was informed her contract wouldn’t be renewed due to ongoing poor performance.

Paylan sued, claiming sex discrimination. As part of her complaint, she presented a negative performance review, which was ostensibly completed before her initial complaint. But Paylan claimed the review was done after her complaint, and then backdated to make her look bad after she complained about discrimination.

As the case moved through the usual legal hoops, her lawyers were given access to both the review file and the hard drive the supervisor had used to write it so they could check for evidence of tampering with the file.

St. Mary’s provided a copy of the file, but said the hard drive had been reformatted after a crash, and the old data, including the original file, was available.

Paylan lost that case, but then tried to sue again, claiming the hospital had intentionally destroyed evidence.

Fortunately for St. Mary’s, the judge tossed the case, since the hospital had turned over other evidence, and there was no reason to believe the reformatting had been done maliciously.

Still, another court might have ruled the other way. It highlights the importance of having strong, proactive policies in place to ensure that all files — paper and electronic — have adequate backup. Even the most innocent reasons for losing a file can take on sinister connotations once the lawyers are involved.

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