On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge James Donato of San Francisco ruled that Alphabet Inc.’s Google LLC had intentionally destroyed evidence in the form of employee “chat” messages while facing antitrust litigation in California, and must pay sanctions and face a possible penalty at trial for their actions.
Google is now facing its second finding of illegal destruction of evidence in a second antitrust lawsuit.
Spoliation of evidence is a serious, sanctionable offense.
This is now a pattern. https://t.co/m2CJhTJt75
— 🇺🇸 Mike Davis 🇺🇸 (@mrddmia) March 28, 2023
In his order, Donato stated that Google had fallen “strikingly short” in its duties to preserve records as part of the proceedings.
The judge’s ruling is part of multidistrict litigation that includes a consumer class action involving “as many as 21 million residents; 38 states and the District of Columbia; and companies including Epic Games Inc and Match Group LLC,” according to Newsmax.
The plaintiffs in these lawsuits are challenging Google’s monopoly over the distribution of Android mobile applications. While plaintiffs are demanding aggregate damages of $4.7 billion, Google is still denying the allegations.
Donato has given the plaintiffs’ lawyers an April 21 deadline to provide an amount in legal fees sought as a sanction.
Meanwhile, plaintiffs will also be given a chance to convince the judge to inform the jury that Google had destroyed evidence in the case that would have been unfavorable to the company in the litigation. Donato has said that he wants to see “the state of play” at a later date during the case before making that decision.
“Google has tried to downplay the problem and displayed a dismissive attitude ill-tuned to the gravity of its conduct,” the judge stated.
A Google spokesperson responded to the judge’s decision on Tuesday, pointing out that the company has “produced over three million documents, including thousands of chats.”
Despite destroying some of the evidence, Google’s lawyers claimed in a court filing last year that the company had taken “robust steps to preserve relevant chats.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs stated in their filings that they were seeking Google’s instant messaging communications “on topics at the core” of their litigation. After it was revealed that the company had destroyed evidence, the lawyers revealed that Google had been deleting chat records every 24 hours and “did so even after this litigation commenced.”
Donato has determined that Google “left employees largely on their own to determine what Chat communications might be relevant” to the litigation.
The antitrust trial is scheduled to begin in November.
Google is also facing another antitrust lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice, where they are also being accused of destroying chat records.
Meanwhile, the company is also being accused of censorship — with Republican lawmakers arguing that Google had even gone so far as to change its algorithm to benefit President Joe Biden and hurt former President Donald Trump during the 2020 election.