In a memorandum opinion dated April 27, 2011, United States District Judge T.S. Ellis, who sits in the Alexandria Division of the Eastern District of Virginia, taught plaintiff Stephanie Holmes that it was not a good idea to change her story multiple times during her deposition. Finding that she had “perpetrated a fraud on the court,” Judge Ellis affirmed the magistrate judge’s recommendation to strike Holmes’s claim for compensatory damages for pain and suffering.
Holmes, who had worked as a stocker at a Wal-mart in Alexandria, Virginia, for four years, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that Walmart had failed to make reasonable accommodations for her hearing impairment. She alleged that Walmart had refused to provide her with an interpreter and with comprehensive notes of meetings and instructions, all of which she needed to perform her job properly. She sought compensation for pecuniary losses, an injunction, punitive damages, and back pay.
The EEOC filed suit on Holmes’s behalf. During Holmes’s deposition in 2010, Walmart’s attorneys asked her about whether she had received any treatment from a mental health provider for emotional distress caused by her employment at Walmart. First, she said, “I don’t need therapy, and I don’t see doctors.” Then she said she saw a therapist just once in 2007. She later changed her story again and said she saw one doctor three times a week from March 2004 through February 2005. Finally, at the end of her deposition, she acknowledged that she had received therapy for anxiety and depression in a 13-year period from 1994 to 2007 and that some of the treatment related to her work at Walmart.
Walmart moved to dismiss Holmes’s entire complaint on the grounds that she had lied in her deposition and had failed to provide relevant documents in discovery. Rather than dismiss the complaint in its entirety, however, Judge Ellis decided that the appropriate course was to affirm the recommendation of the magistrate judge to strike only Holmes’s claim for pain and suffering damages.
Judge Ellis found that Holmes’s untruths at her deposition “prevented Walmart from adequately preparing its defense, particularly its defense against her claim for compensatory damages for pain and suffering.” Accordingly, the appropriate action was to strike that claim. Judge Ellis noted that although a federal judge has the inherent power to dismiss a case in its entirety, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit “has emphasized that courts must exercise this authority with restraint.”
“The partial dismissal ordered here must stand as a beacon to warn and deter others from engaging in similar conduct,” Judge Ellis wrote.