In almost every workplace, information is communicated and stored electronically. Email, scanned documents, spreadsheets, databases, memos, letters, and more are all stored electronically. These troves of electronic information often contain the evidence that lawyers need to prove illegal activity. Even when a wrongdoer tries to cover their tracks, electronic storage of information can make it difficult to completely cover their tracks. One example of this occurred in a case in San Francisco that recently resulted in a judgment of over $10 million dollars for a whistleblower.
In that San Francisco case, the company claimed that it fired the whistleblower because of erratic work and loud outbursts. The whistleblower—who argued that the company fired him because he blew the whistle on illegal activity—said that his work was not erratic, he did not make loud outbursts, and the company never provided him with any documentation to support these claims. The company presented a performance review, dated a couple months before the whistleblower’s termination, which appeared to corroborate the company’s claim of erratic work and loud outbursts. But because the performance review was created electronically, “metadata” showed that the performance review was a fake.
Metadata is information about an electronic record such as who created it and when it was created. The whistleblower’s lawyer obtained the metadata associated with the performance review that supported the company’s claim of erratic work and loud outbursts. The metadata showed that the performance review was actually created after the whistleblower’s termination. This showed that the company did not take that performance review into account when it fired the whistleblower and that it may have created the performance review after the termination as a way to cover up its unlawful retaliatory motive for firing the whistleblower.