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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Analyze Email First, Talk Later

More than perhaps any other type of case that companies deal with, employment disputes often boil down to “he said, she said”. Since witnesses are rarely present, both sides quickly then look to email for supporting evidence. This usually happens behind closed doors giving the innocent bystander no visibility into how the process works. That’s why the case of the Justice Department and the 8 fired US Attorneys is so interesting – it illustrates what happens every day in similar, less high-profile employment disputes.

The questions are always the same:

1. Who made the decision? Initially, the answer given was Kyle Sampson, the Attorney General’s Chief of Staff. But email told a different story, showing that the Attorney General was involved, something that Mr. Sampson later confirmed in Congressional Testimony.

2. Why were the people fired? Initially, the answer was “performance reasons”. But internal department e-mail messages show consideration was also given to the views of senators, administration policy priorities, and legislative goals.

3. Was the decision justified? Well, that’s where the evidence stops, and human judgment comes in. Supporters of the decision would say it was perfectly justified, but poorly executed; opponents would argue it is more evidence of politicizing the judiciary.

As in other employment disputes that occur outside of the public eye, email analysis takes the “he said, she said” out of the situation. If you know who made the decision and why, it becomes much easier to decide whether the action was appropriate. The current difficulties at the Justice Department stem as much from the fact that they did not analyze their emails before making public statements, as it does from what they actually did.

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