Witness Tampering Merits Dismissal of Bias Lawsuit

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By Jon Steingart

Offering to pay a witness to provide false testimony in a lawsuit alleging discrimination and retaliation merited dismissal as a sanction, a federal appeals court in Illinois ruled Dec. 30 ( Ramirez v. T&H Lemont, Inc. , 2016 BL 435257, 7th Cir., No. 16-1753, 12/30/16 ).

Armando Ramirez accused T&H Lemont Inc. of subjecting him to a hostile work environment because of his Mexican national origin and firing him when he reported it, in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. His attorney, who didn’t participate in the misconduct, informed the trial court judge when the attorney received a text message from a witness asking what share he “will receive when the case is settled,” Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner wrote for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

The appeals court overruled its own precedent that said witness tampering must be proved by clear and convincing evidence or evidence sufficient to produce a firm belief in the truth of the facts. The Seventh Circuit rule now is that showing witness tampering only requires a preponderance of the evidence, a much lower bar to meet. It means the alleged conduct is more likely than not to have occurred and is the same standard required to prevail in most civil lawsuits.

The case was dismissed with prejudice, which means Ramirez can’t file it again. As a result, he may have a meritorious claim for which he is foreclosed from obtaining relief, Rovner said. “But witness tampering is among the most grave abuses of the judicial process, and as such it warrants a substantial sanction,” she wrote, joined by Judges Frank H. Easterbrook and Diane S. Sykes.

James Macchitelli of Schaumburg, Illinois, represented Ramirez. Cinthia Motley of Sedgwick LLP in Chicago represented T&H Lemont.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at jsteingart@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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