Seventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Lawsuit Where Plaintiff Tried to Defraud the Court


The Seventh Circuit affirmed a decision of a district judge to dismiss a case where the plaintiff submitted a doctored employment agreement in response to a motion to dismiss. The employment agreement was altered by inserting pages from another agreement between the first and last pages. The phony pages would have given the plaintiff a right to arbitration.

The plaintiff sued his former employer and some of its employees alleging violations of Title VII. This passage sets out the facts:

After Secrease filed suit in June 2014, Western & Southern moved to dismiss the suit as untimely. It argued that Secrease had tried to make his Title VII claims look timely by attaching to his complaint a charge of discrimination, filed with the EEOC in April 2013, but mismatched to a right-to-sue letter dated March 2014 that addressed a different EEOC charge.

Secrease had filed three charges of discrimination with the EEOC. He filed his first charge in March 2013 alleging age and sex discrimination. He repeated those allegations in a second charge, the one from April 2013 that he attached to his complaint. The EEOC assigned the same charge number to both the March and April 2013 charges and issued Secrease a right-to-sue letter, which Secreaseomitted from his complaint, for both charges on June 25, 2013. Secrease filed a third charge in November 2013 that again repeated the sex and age allegations and added that the company had fired him in retaliation for the earlier charges. In March 2014, the EEOC issued Secrease a second right-to-sue letter, for the November 2013 charge, which he attached to his complaint.

The company argued that because Secrease had alleged similar claims in each of his three charges, his time to sue started after he received his first right-to-sue letter in June 2013 and lapsed about nine months before he filed suit. Finally, as to the state-law claims, the company argued that Secrease failed to state a claim.

Secrease asked the court to deny the motion to dismiss. Instead of answeringWestern & Southern’s arguments or seeking to dismiss his suit voluntarily (if he had no response), he asked the court for different relief: an order to resolve the dispute in arbitration. He submitted a document, signed by him, that he said was his employment contract. It contained a mandatory arbitration clause.

Western & Southern replied that Secrease was trying to defraud the court because his actual employment contract did not contain an arbitration clause. According to Western & Southern, Secrease furnished the first and last pages of his own employment contract, both of which he signed in October 2006. But the remaining, interior pages of Secrease’s submission containing an arbitration clause were from an employment contract that the company did not use until 2008, two years after Secrease had signed his employment contract. Although that later contract form did include mandatory arbitration, Secrease and the company never entered into such an agreement. The document identification numbers confirmed the company’s explanation. The signed pages produced by Secrease were labeled 2-0603 (06 representing the year 2006 and 03 representing March) and the remaining pages of the document bore the label 2-0901 (09 for 2009 and 01 for January). Having already experienced Secrease’s effort to mismatch his EEOC charges and right-to-sue letters, Western & Southern asked the district judge to dismiss Secrease’s claims with prejudice as a sanction for his fraud on the court.

The District Court dismissed the case for the fraudulent conduct by the plaintiff. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit was unimpressed by the arguments of Secrease:

We find no error in the district court’s factual finding of attempted fraud. The district judge reasonably concluded that Secrease intended to mislead the court into granting his request to compel arbitration. His actual 2006 contract did not contain the arbitration clause, and Secrease admitted that the inside pages of the contract that he submitted were from a different employee’s contract. He could not substantiate his assertions that he combined the documents only accidentally, that he tried to call the court to correct his mistake, and that he had signed another contract containing an arbitration clause. The district court’s findings that Secreasehad falsified evidence in bad faith and lied about it were amply supported by the evidence and certainly were not clearly erroneous.

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.

Source: SECREASE v. WESTERN & SOUTHERN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit 2015 – Google Scholar

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