Seventh Circuit Affirms Sanction Against Attorney For False Allegation of Sexual Assault

The case is captioned Egan v. Pineda, 12 C 9034. The plaintiff brought a claim for sex discrimination and the creation of a hostile work environment. The case was eventually dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

The lawyer for the plaintiff was sanctioned in the amount of $5,000 because of an allegation in the complaint. That paragraph  alleged that Ms. Egan

“was repeatedly caused to be subjected to unwelcome verbal and physical actions of a sexual nature and was further victimized by acts of sexual assault by the defendants’ male employees in her work environment throughout her employment tenure with defendants.”

The Seventh Circuit goes on to explain that: “the defendants included her employer, Huntington Copper, LLC, and one of its former owners, David Pineda. The paragraph we quoted could thus be understood to be accusing Pineda of having subjected the plaintiff to unwelcome “physical actions of a sexual nature” and of having been responsible for sexual assaults on her by male employees of Huntington.”

At her deposition, however, Egan denied that she had been sexually assaulted. Egan also testified that she had not written that paragraph in the complaint or seen it prior to her deposition. Pineda filed a motion for Rule 11 sanctions claiming that the paragraph was false and was very damaging to him. At a hearing before the district court, the attorney for plaintiff was unable to explain why the paragraph appeared in the complaint other than to say that it was an error and an “oversight.” The district court found this explanation was not sufficient and sanctioned the attorney $5,000. The Seventh Circuit affirmed holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion. The court explained that the lawyer’s “excuses are pathetic and leave us in the dark about how or why he falsified the complaint.”

Comment: I am also baffled at how a serious allegation of this type could end up in a complaint without several discussions between the attorney and the client. Obviously, even an allegation of sexual assault could ruin a career. The message is that you should be careful before accusing someone of serious misconduct.

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.

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