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Hall v. Life Care Centers of America, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

April 27, 2018

PAMELA HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
LIFE CARE CENTERS OF AMERICA, INC., et al., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER ON MOTION TO COMPEL

          HON. KENNETH G. GALE, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         In the present action, Plaintiff Pamela Hall alleges she was subject to employment discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Family Medical and Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff contends she was forced to terminate her employment, while Defendants Life Care Centers of America (“Defendant LCCA” or “LCCA”) and Michelle Yosick (“Defendant Yosick” or “Yosick”) contend Plaintiff did so voluntarily.

         Now before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Enforce Discovery. (Doc. 58.) Having reviewed the submissions of the parties, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part as more fully set forth below.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Legal Standards.

         Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b) states that

[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at state in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

         As such, the requested information must be nonprivileged, relevant, and proportional to the needs of the case to be discoverable. Holick v. Burkhart, No. 16-1188-JTM-KGG, 2018 WL 372440, at *2 (D. Kan. Jan. 11, 2018).

         II. Plaintiff's First Document Requests.

         A. Personnel Files (Requests for Production Nos. 2 and 7).

         Request No. 2 seeks “[p]ersonnel files . . . of any employee of LCCA who gave any input . . . into, or participated in, Plaintiff s termination, and/or the decision to terminate and/or offering Plaintiff a severance agreement.” (Doc. 58-2, at 3.) Request No. 7 asks for personnel files of any of Defendant LCCA's employees “who had supervisory authority over Plaintiff at the time Plaintiff's employment ended.” (Id., at 4.)

         Defendants object that the requests are overly broad and unduly burdensome because they are not “limited to the claims and defenses in this action” (as to Request No. 2) and not “specific as to what counts as ‘supervisory authority'” (as to Request No. 7). (Id., at 3, 4.) Defendants continue that the requests are vague and ambiguous because they do not “identify the file sought with any specificity” (as to Request No. 2) and seek irrelevant documents that are non-proportional to the needs of the case (as to Request No. 7). (Id.) Finally, Defendants argue that the requests seek “the confidential personnel files of nonparties to this action who have not consented to disclosure.” (Id.) That stated, Defendants identify Michelle Yosick as Plaintiff's supervisor and agrees to produce her personnel file “other than her personal information.” (Id.)

         The court overrules the ambiguity objections. Employers may maintain different documents in a “personnel file, ” or may not maintain a collection of documents that meet that definition at all. Defendants, however, have agreed to produce Ms. Yosick's “personnel file, ” so apparently Defendants maintain such.[1]The verbiage of these requests, at least in this case, is not vague and ambiguous. Terms such as “personnel file” are generally accepted in the realm of employment law. As to Request No. 7, the term “supervisory authority” is sufficiently self-explanatory.

         The Court's analysis thus turns to whether the files at issue are relevant and proportional to the case (appropriately “limited to the claims and defenses in this action”). Plaintiff is correct that courts in this District generally hold that an individual's employment records are relevant and discoverable “if the individual (1) is alleged to have engaged in the retaliation or discrimination at issue, (2) is alleged to have played an important role in the decision or incident that gives rise to the lawsuit, or (3) is a key witness to the events giving rise to the lawsuit.” White v. Graceland Coll. Ctr. For Prof'l Dev. & Lifelong Learning, Inc., 586 F.Supp.2d 1250, 1259 (D. Kan. 2008) (citations omitted).

         Plaintiff states that the “decision makers as to Plaintiff's termination” are Defendant Yosick, Defendant LCCA's in-house counsel (who was involved in drafting a severance and release agreement) and Division Vice President Eric Doerhoff.” (Doc. 58, at 4.) Plaintiff also contends that she is entitled to the personnel file of Human Resources employee Jamie Corradini, who, according to Plaintiff, “provided information to management about Plaintiff and her medical leave and, according to defense counsel, ‘approved' Plaintiff's termination. (Id.)

         Defendants concur with the White v. Graceland holding. (See Doc. 63, at 5.) Even so, they do not agree that individuals besides Yosick meet the criteria outlined in White. Defendants have thus produced only Yosick's personnel file, “explain[ing] that Yosick, with approval from her Division Manager and HR, met with Plaintiff to discuss her resignation.” (Doc. 63, at 5.) Defendants argue that Plaintiff's justification for production of the personnel file of in-house counsel is “insufficient.” (Doc. 63, at 5.) Defendants also contend that “Doerhoff's role as Yosick's supervisor who approved seeking Plaintiff's resignation does not make his personnel file discoverable” and that Corradini's personnel file is not “discoverable merely because she provided Yosick information she received from Plaintiff regarding Plaintiff not returning to work.” (Id., at 6.)

         Plaintiff replies that

defense counsel . . . specifically indicated that Jamie Corridini [sic] and Eric Doerhoff ‘approved' Plaintiff's termination. Moreover, it was Corridini [sic] and Doerhoff (a day or two after learning Plaintiff was requesting FMLA leave for a two week period) who consulted with one another about Plaintiff's absence from work (because of FMLA qualifying medical conditions, that both of them knew about) constituting “job abandonment”. Also, as indicated in [Defendant's document production], Annette Sharp, Kelley Falcon, Theodore Lu, and others were involved in the events surrounding Plaintiff's termination, her FMLA, and the Separation Agreement (in fact, Lu prepared it). All these people are responsive to Plaintiff's RFP 2 and, consequently, their unredacted personnel files should be produced.

(Doc. 72, at 11-12 (emphasis in original).)

         The Court finds that Plaintiff has sufficiently established that Doerhoff and Corradini were either engaged in the retaliation/discrimination, played an important role in the decision, or are key witnesses to the events surrounding Plaintiff's termination/severance. As such, their personnel files are discoverable. Plaintiff has not sufficiently established the involvement of “Annette Sharp, Kelley Falcon, Theodore Lu, and others” as key witnesses or decisionmakers, thus their personnel files are not discoverable.

         As to documents responsive to Requests Nos. 2 and 7, this Court has routinely held that a document being “confidential” does not equate to being privileged or otherwise shielded from discovery.

It is well settled that confidentiality does not act as a bar to discovery and is not grounds to withhold documents or information from discovery. ‘A concern for protecting confidentiality does not equate to privilege.' While a confidentiality objection may be appropriate when a party seeks a protective order limiting the parties' use or disclosure of confidential information, it is generally not a valid objection to withholding discovery altogether.

         High Point SARL v. Sprint Nextel Corp., No. 09-2269-CM-DJW, 2011 WL 4008009, at *1 (D. Kan. Sept. 9, 2011) (citations and footnotes omitted); AKH v. Universal Underwriters Ins. Co., No. 13-2003-JAR-KGG, 2017 WL 5465240, at *15 (D. Kan. Nov. 14, 2017).

         Defendants' objections to Requests Nos. 2 and 7 are overruled. The Court GRANTS this portion of Plaintiff's Motion as to the personnel files of Eric Doerhoff and Jaimie Corradini, in addition to that Michelle Yosick, produced previously. Defendant is instructed to provide a supplemental response, without objection, to Plaintiff within thirty (30) days of the date of this Order.

         B. Electronic Devices and Documents (Requests Nos. 8, 28, 30, 31, 34, 35, 38, and 40).

         These requests seek documents and electronic communications under specified search terms, time frames, devices, and document custodians. (See Doc. 58-2, at 5, 12-15). For instance, Request No. 8 seeks such documents from computers or devices used for Defendant LCCA's business by Annette Sharp, Jaimie Corradini, Michelle Yosick,

and/or any other employee of LCCA [but only employees who gave input into (factual, legal, Human Resources, or otherwise) and/or made decisions that: (i) Plaintiff s employment should be terminated, (ii) that Plaintiff s job performance was not meeting the expectations of either of the Defendants, (iii) that Plaintiff should be offered a severance agreement in return for her resignation, and/or (iv) employees who were interviewed or questioned about facts regarding items (i) through (iii)].

(Id., at 5.) The remaining requests in this section seek more specific categories of documents that are, most likely, subsumed in the documents responsive to Request No. 8 (e.g. documents discussing Plaintiff's eligibility or request for leave (Nos. 30, 38), her medical condition (No. 35), Plaintiff's desire to resign (No. 40), etc.).

         Plaintiff contends that

[a]fter conferring and agreeing to limit email searches to specific email accounts (rather than the entire server), LCCA moved forward with searches (presumably using Plaintiff's search terms and date parameters) but without complete agreement as to what custodian and devices would be searched. Although Plaintiff has been told that LCCA's searches for ESI located 20, 000 documents (which have been under review for ...

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