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Women seek $1.7 million for public record destruction

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Women seek 1.7 million for public record destruction

  • In a rare case over destruction of public records in Ohio, two women are seeking reinstatement of a $1.7 million jury award involving the City of Akron’s destruction of employment records.

Feb. 24, 2004 — Elizabeth Kish and Victoria Elder, two former City of Akron employees, are seeking a reinstatement of a $1.7 million jury award won after they showed their former employer destroyed records indicating the amount of overtime they worked.

Jennifer Corso, attorney for Kish and Elder, argued before a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati (6th Cir.) on Feb. 3 that federal district Judge James S. Gallas’s reduction of a $1.7 million jury award was improper.

Gallas, who presided over the trial in district court in Akron, had reduced the December 2001 jury award by $860,000, eliminating the amount awarded for the destruction of public records because the women were also awarded money for the city’s destruction of evidence, which concerned the same documents. Both sides appealed the final award.

Corso argued that both Kish and Elder were awarded damages on two different types of claims — statutory damages for destruction of public records, and punitive damages for destroying evidence before a trial — and therefore the two awards by the jury were proper.

Corso added that the City of Akron did not raise the double damages argument before the trial court, which should render the city’s appeal moot.

The two women sued the city of Akron and their former supervisor George Jumbert in 2000 following three years of internal complaints that they weren’t receiving proper compensation for overtime worked at the City of Akron Plans and Permits Division.

According to court records, Kish consulted with legal counsel and the Department of Labor in 1999 about the overtime issue. That information was relayed to the City’s labor relations manager. In April 2000, Kish and Elder requested their time records from the City, but were told they were thrown away. The City of Akron claimed the destruction of records was “a matter of housecleaning,” but the jury ruled that the city had deliberately destroyed the records in anticipation of a lawsuit, and awarded Kish and Elder $480,000 and $380,000, respectively, because of the destruction of public records. They received the same amounts in punitive damages under Ohio’s spoliation of evidence law.

The fine for destroying public records in Ohio is $1,000 per record. The destruction of public records law has been on the Ohio state books since 1986, but little case law relative to the statute exists. “This will be the seminal case for the destruction of public records law in Ohio,” said Corso. “This could open the floodgates.”

Corso said an appellate court decision on the reinstatement of the awards is not expected for at least three to four months.

(Kish v. City of Akron; Plaintiffs’ counsel: Jennifer Corso and Warner Mendenhall, Wegman, Hessler and Vanderburg, Cleveland) LH

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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