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Romero v. Regions Financial Corporation

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

July 3, 2019

CARMEN ROMERO, Plaintiff,
v.
REGIONS FINANCIAL CORPORATION/ REGIONS BANK, Defendant.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SPOLIATION SANCTIONS

          EDWIN G. TORRES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff CARMEN ROMERO filed the present Motion on May 28, 2019, seeking sanctions for spoliation of evidence against Defendant REGIONS FINANCIAL CORPORATION. [D.E. 110]. In the Motion, Romero asks that we find Defendant, in bad faith, destroyed video surveillance evidence that may have shown certain events at Defendant's Miami Lakes banking branch on the afternoon of May 28, 2016. Plaintiff requests: (1) an adverse jury instruction that the deleted video would have supported Plaintiff's claim about what occurred on the day in question; (2) exclusion of reliance on the video in resolving Defendant's motion for summary judgment; and (3) fees and costs associated with investigating the spoliation issue and filing the Motion for Sanctions.

         After reviewing the Motion, Defendant's Response in Opposition [D.E. 116], and the relevant governing authorities on the issue, we hereby find that it should be DENIED.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         It would be an understatement to say that this litigation has turned acrimonious. The parties' briefing materials on most issues devolve into overstated accusations of impropriety, while a majority of the pleadings contain unnecessarily testy exchanges between counsel. We will do our best to crawl through the weeds to get to the bottom of what actually occurred, although at times the briefing on the subject makes this a difficult task. Nevertheless, the following is our summary of the events leading to Plaintiff's filing of the Motion for Sanctions.

         A. The Actions Giving Rise to Plaintiff's Firing

         On the date of her termination - Saturday, May 28, 2016 - Plaintiff was working at a Regions banking branch location in Miami Lakes, Florida.[1] Sometime around 10:00 in the morning, a father and son entered the branch. The father had been a customer at Regions for several years, and Romero had interacted with him previously while handling various banking transactions on his behalf. The son, who recently emigrated to the United States from Cuba, allegedly wanted to open a new account with Defendant.

         Regions requires any potential new customer to present several forms of identification before any account can be opened. Such requirements stem from certain company policies, most of which have been put in place to comply with various federal and local banking laws passed in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. The forms of identification necessary to open a new account vary based on the new customer's citizenship or residency status. For purposes of our case here, the child - a resident alien - needed to provide the following before any account could be opened on his behalf: (1) a Florida driver's license, or some other state-issued identification; (2) a passport; (3) a permanent resident card; and (4) a social security card.

         Defendant contends that on May 28, 2016, the child provided only two of the four types of identification required: a Cuban passport and a social security card. Defendant's policies do not allow Cuban passports to serve as an acceptable form of identification, and any attempt to enter such information into Regions' computing systems would have immediately triggered a warning to the employee that would prevent someone from proceeding with an account opening absent a manager's override of the system.[2]

         According to her deposition testimony, Plaintiff knew about the policies put in place by Defendant and understood the importance of collecting valid forms of identification prior to the opening of any new account. Regions claims, however, that Plaintiff avoided the I-Connect system's safeguards by misrepresenting the form of identification the child provided on the date in question. Specifically, Defendant asserts that Romero entered certain information contained within the passport - such as the issuing date, number, and expiration date - but identified the document as a Florida non-driver's license identification card, which is an acceptable form of identification. Thus, Regions contends that Romero intentionally circumvented the system's safeguards, thereby allowing the account to be opened on the child's behalf that day.

         The branch closed at noon the day Defendant alleges Romero fraudulently entered the unauthorized identification information into the system. Shortly before the bank's closing, Leysi Pumar - the branch supervisor on duty - claims she discovered what Romero had done when she reviewed a photocopy of the Cuban passport placed in the new customer's file. Pumar testified that she confronted Romero about her actions, and after discussing the issue, felt that Plaintiff had intentionally violated company policy. Pumar referred the matter to Regions' human resources department shortly thereafter.

         Aimee Gonzalez, an employee with Regions' human resources department tasked with investigating the incident, discussed the issue with Pumar and consulted company policy on acceptable forms of identification. She also met with and spoke to Romero about the incident. Gonzalez claims that Romero admitted to violating the policy and ultimately determined Plaintiff had opened the account using unauthorized forms of identification.[3] Gonzalez recommended that Romero be fired, and Regions terminated Plaintiff's employment on July 8, 2016. Romero was 63 years old at that time.

         Romero tells a far different story. When deposed in January of this year, Plaintiff denied that she ever opened the account at issue. Instead, she blamed Pumar for accepting the documents.

PLAINTIFF: I [entered] the social security number and that's when the system stopped me.
COUNSEL: And that's when you call over [Pumar]? Is that correct?
PLAINTIFF: Correct.
COUNSEL: And it's your testimony that [Pumar entered] the remaining information [into the system]?
PLAINTIFF: Correct.

[Depo. of C. Romero, D.E. 130-1, pp. 118-19]. Defendant claims that Romero never provided this version of events at any point prior to her deposition, and immediately initiated measures that could ascertain whether Pumar had ultimately been the wrongful actor. This leads us to the video surveillance at the hear of Plaintiff's Motion for Sanction.

         B. Plaintiff's Motion for Spoliation of Evidence

         In order to rebut Plaintiff's claim that Pumar was to blame for her firing, Defendant asked Regions' technology department to search for surveillance video at the time the unauthorized customer attempted to open the account. On February 14, 2019, Defendant located the surveillance tapes for the day in question, for a period spanning 9:00 A.M. to 10:45 A.M. Randall Shields, a corporate security field investigator, explained how he reviewed the tapes at issue and testified that he chose only to preserve this portion of the tape. [Depo. of R. Shields, D.E. 116-6, p. 6-7].

         Plaintiff's request for spoliation focuses on the “missing” portion of surveillance for the remainder of the work day. Plaintiff claims that after being provided with the surveillance tapes, her counsel immediately requested that he also be given tapes pertaining to the end-of-day confrontation between Pumar and Romero, when Pumar alleged confronted Romero about her acceptance of the Cuban passport. Defendant concedes that this portion of the tape was not preserved, and can no longer be recovered.

         Plaintiff now asks that Regions be sanctioned for its failure to preserve the remainder of the day's video. Romero claims Regions needed to provide the entirety of the day's recordings because the “end of day” debrief between Pumar and Romero is key to proving her version of events and can be used to defeat Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. We have thoroughly reviewed the record, including arguments made during the discovery hearing that took place on April 19, 2019. For the reasons stated below, we will deny the Motion.[4]

         II. APPLICABLE LEGAL PRINCIPLES

         A. ...


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