In 1977, the DEA was sued for discrimination in hiring and promoting African-Americans, resulting in a 1982 injunction order prohibiting future discrimination and requiring the DEA to institute a new hiring system. (Referred to as the Segar litigation).
In 2001, the Plaintiff, Mary Buckley, who was a member of the Segar class, was temporarily assigned to a position where she was required to assist with a GAO audit. On June 11, 2001, a GAO representative contacted the DEA about conducting a study of the DEA's hiring, promotion, and discipline systems at the request of Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. An in-house attorney for the DEA commented that the plaintiff's involvement in the audit process was a conflict of interest due to her participation in the Segar case. In July 2001, the DEA posted two positions, and the plaintiff applied for each. She was turned down, and claimed that her participation in the Segar litigation was the motivating factor, along with her sex and race.
At trial, the Plaintiff sought to introduce evidence of the Segar litigation. The district judge limited the evidence that could be presented to the jury with respect to the litigation, invoking Rules 401, 402, 403, 404(a) and 404(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence. The court found that that Buckley sought to introduce evidence regarding the prior litigation in order to establish "an environment of discrimination" within the DEA. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit held that the district court's ruling on the Segar litigation evidence "constituted an error of law and, thus, an abuse of discretion," and that "the trial court's error in restricting the Segar litigation evidence affected Buckley's substantial rights by rendering her unable to cogently demonstrate Segar litigation-related retaliatory animus." The court held that
[v]iewed in the light of its real purpose of establishing retaliatory animus, the Segar litigation evidence is unquestionably "relevant" within the meaning of Rule 401. Moreover, such evidence of other wrongs or acts is admissible under Rule 404(b), "which allows evidence of other wrongs for purposes such as proof of motive and intent."
Although Rule 404(b) evidence is subject to the balancing analysis of Rule 403, "the potential importance of evidence showing state of mind is properly weighed in the balance." . . . Clearly, the critical importance of the Segar litigation evidence to Buckley's proof of retaliatory animus is not outweighed (much less substantially outweighed) by any danger of unfair prejudice. ... To the extent there is any danger of confusion of the issues, a limiting instruction could be utilized to caution the jury that the Segar litigation evidence is to be considered only as evidence of retaliatory animus.
Adverse inference instruction
Buckley also argued on appeal that the district court wrongly refused her request for an adverse inference instruction against the government for spoliation of evidence. Apparently, the DEA destroyed electronic documents, pursuant to routine internal procedures, after receiving notice of her claims. The district court denied the instruction because (1) Buckley failed to demonstrate willful or intentional conduct, rather than mere negligence, on the part of the government, and (2) she did not pursue a preservation order. The Fourth Circuit noted the error:
In its analysis of Buckley's request for an adverse inference instruction, the district court appears to have committed an error of law by equating the intentional conduct necessary for such an instruction with bad faith, thereby deeming non-bad faith conduct to be negligent conduct. The court did not acknowledge that the DEA's document destruction, though not conducted in bad faith, could yet be "intentional," "willful," or "deliberate." See Vodusek, 71 F.3d at 156. Nevertheless, because we already are remanding for a new trial on other grounds, we simply leave it to the district court to consider on remand - consistent with our discussion herein - Buckley's request for an adverse inference instruction.
The court added that, "even absent a court order," "'[t]he duty to preserve material evidence arises not only during litigation but also extends to that period before the litigation when a party reasonably should know that the evidence may be relevant to anticipated litigation.' Silvestri v. Gen. Motors Corp., 271 F.3d 583, 591 (4th Cir. 2001)."