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GAUL v. ZEP MANUFACTURING COMPANY

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania


February 5, 2004.

KAREN LEE GAUL
v.
ZEP MANUFACTURING COMPANY, et al

The opinion of the court was delivered by: HERBERT HUTTON, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Presently before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Defendants' Full and Complete Responses to Plaintiff's First Set of Interrogatories and Request for Production and for Removal of the Confidential Designation on Certain Documents Identified by Defendant as Confidential (Docket No. 15), Defendant Acuity Specialty Products Group, Inc. d/b/a Zep Manufacturing, Inc.'s response (Docket No. 19), Plaintiff's reply (Docket No. 20), and Plaintiff's sur-reply thereto (Docket No. 32).

I. BACKGROUND

  This is an employment discrimination suit brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the Equal Pay Act ("EPA"), 29 U.S.C. § 206 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 951 et seg., alleging gender discrimination and retaliation. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that (1) she was wrongfully denied a promotion to District Sales Manager ("DSM") of the mid-Atlantic division in mid-1999; (2) she was demoted from the Page 2 position of Branch Sales Manager ("BSM") to Field Sales Manager ("FSM") in August of 2001 because of her gender; and (3) Defendant retaliated against her for filing a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission by setting unrealistic sales goals, by failing to give her business leads at a comparable rate to what male employees were receiving, and by reducing her compensation. On January 30, 2004, this Court dismissed Plaintiff's failure to promote claim as time-barred under Title VII and the PHRA. The Court also determined that Plaintiff had failed to make a prima facie case of an EPA violation under her failure to promote claim. Plaintiff now moves to compel answers to certain interrogatories and document requests.

  II. LEGAL STANDARD

  "It is well-established that the scope and conduct of discovery are within the sound discretion of the trial court." Marroquin-Manriques v. Immigration and Naturalization Serv., 699 F.2d 129, 134 (3d Cir. 1983). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permit discovery of "any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Discovery is not limited solely to admissible evidence but encompasses matters which "appear[] reasonably caculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." See id; Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340 (1978). "Relevance is construed broadly and determined in relation to the facts and circumstances of each case." Hall v. Harlevsville Ins. Co., 164 F.R.D. 406, 407 Page 3 (E.D. Pa. 1996). Once the party from whom discovery is sought raises an objection, the party seeking discovery must demonstrate the relevancy of the information requested. Vitale v. McAtee, 170 F.R.D. 404, 406 (E.D. Pa. 1997). At that point, the burden shifts back to the objecting party to show why discovery should not be permitted. Id.

  III. DISCUSSION

  In this motion, Plaintiff seeks information related to the Branch Sales Manager, District Sales Manager, and Regional Sales Manager positions, including personnel files, performance evaluations, salary information, and company-wide sales information broken down by branch. Plaintiff also seeks documents related to her job performance and responsibilities, documents regarding claims or complaints of gender discrimination against Defendant, and information regarding sales representatives and their expected sales goals.

  Defendant objects to many of these requests as overly broad. Defendant has limited the temporal scope of its production to the period from June 1, 1998 to the present. Defendant also asserts that Plaintiff is not entitled to nationwide discovery and has limited the geographical scope of its production to the Philadelphia branch and the Washington branch, which are the branches headed by Ethan Powers. Moreover, Defendant objects to the production of all documents related to the Regional Sales Managers and District Sales Managers, arguing that they are Page 4 irrelevant to Plaintiff's claims. In particular, Defendant argues that because Plaintiff's failure to promote claim is time-barred, Plaintiff is not entitled to any information related to the District Sales Manager position.

 A. Scope of Discovery

  Because much of the discovery dispute may be resolved by determining the proper scope of discovery, the Court addresses this issue first.

  1. Temporal Scope

  Defendant has suggested that the temporal scope of discovery should be for the time period from June 1, 1998 to the present and has not produced documents outside of that scope. Plaintiff responds that she has no issue with the time limitation for most of the discovery requests and in fact, most of her requests have been limited to the past five years.

  "It is well established that discovery of conduct predating the liability period of a Title VII lawsuit is relevant and courts have commonly extended the scope of discovery to a reasonable number of years prior to the liability period of a Title VII lawsuit." Miller v. Hygrade Food Prods. Corp., 89 F. Supp.2d 643, 657 (E.D. Pa. 2000) (discovery limited to five years before filing of EEOC charge); Steven v. General Electric Co., No. 1-77-122, 1978 WL 150, at *1 (S.D. Ohio Oct. 4, 1978) (noting emergence of a "five year rule"); Milner v. Nat'l Sch. of Health Tech., 73 F.R.D. 628, 632 (E.D. Pa. 1977) (approximately five years before alleged Page 5 violation). In this case, Plaintiff filed her EEOC charge in 2001. Thus, the Court finds that Plaintiff's request for documents for the past five years, dating back to June 1, 1998, to be a more than reasonable temporal scope for discovery.

  Plaintiff also asserts that a more expansive time frame for Request Nos. 3, 4, and 8 is warranted. These documents are related to Plaintiff's performance and job description for the duration of her employment with Defendant, beginning in August 22, 1994. As Defendants have not made any objections to Plaintiff's requests, the Court grants Plaintiff's requests as to these documents.

  2. Geographical Scope

  Defendant argues that Plaintiff is not entitled to nationwide discovery. As such, Defendant has limited the geographical scope of discovery to two of the branches supervised by Ethan Powers, the District Sales Manager of the mid-Atlantic division.*fn1 Specifically, Defendant has limited discovery to the Washington D.C. branch and the Philadelphia branch.

  In a Title VII case, "the needs of the individual plaintiff to information controlled by the . . . employer requires that the parameters of discovery be broader than the specific individual facts upon which the claim is based." Clarke v. Mellon Bank, No. 92-4823, 1993 WL 170950, at *2 (E.D. Pa. May 11, 1993); Miller, Page 6 89 F. Supp.2d at 657. The major consideration for the Court is to balance the relevance of the information against the burden on the defendant. See Miller, 89 F. Supp.2d at 657. To restrict the geographical scope of discovery, defendant "must introduce facts supporting its contention of undue burden or demonstrate that decisions affecting the plaintiff were made at a facility level rather than on a centralized basis." Syed v. Director, No. 90-1801, 1990 WL 259734, at *5 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 30, 1991) (citing Marshall v. Westinqhouse Electric Corp., 576 F.2d 588 (5th Cir. 1978); Hinton v. Entex, Inc., 93 F.R.D. 336 (E.D. Tex. 1981)).

  In this case, limiting discovery to just two of the branches supervised by Ethan Powers, as Defendant suggests, would be too narrow. Defendant has represented that the Division Sales Manager and the Division Manager for the entire Northeast Division were also engaged in discussions with Powers regarding Plaintiff's demotion in 2001. On the other hand, requiring Defendant to produce company-wide information, as Plaintiff suggests, would be unduly burdensome on Defendant. Thus, after weighing the relevance of the information sought against the burden imposed on Defendant, the Court finds that the geographic scope of discovery shall encompass the entire mid-Atlantic and the Northeast Divisions. Accordingly, Defendant shall supplement its discovery responses to include information from all branches in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast divisions. Page 7

 B. Relevant Job Positions

  Plaintiff seeks information about the Branch Sales Manager, District Sales Manager, and Regional Sales Manager positions.

  1. Regional Sales Manager

  Defendant first contends that Regional Sales Manager information is not relevant to Plaintiff's claims because Plaintiff never served as, applied for, or was considered for that position.

  In a Title VII case in which the plaintiff alleging disparate treatment seeks to obtain discovery regarding other employees, "positions that are relevant for discovery purposes are the positions that the plaintiff[] occupied or requested promotions into." Hicks v. Arthur, 159 F.R.D. 468, 471 (E.D. Pa. 1995). In this case, Plaintiff has held the positions of Branch Sales Manager and Field Sales Manager and Sales Representative during her employment with Defendant. Plaintiff has also applied for the position of District Sales Manager. However, Plaintiff has never applied for nor worked as a Regional Sales Manager. Since positions relevant for discovery are those that "plaintiff occupied or requested," the Court concludes that Plaintiff is not entitled to discovery information about Regional Sales Managers. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Request Nos. 7, 10, and 29 are denied. To the extent Plaintiff's Request Nos. 40 and 41 and Interrogatory Nos. 2 and 3 seek information about Regional Sales Managers, those requests are also denied. Page 8

  2. District Sales Manager

  Defendant also contends that, because Plaintiff's failure to promote claim is time-barred, she is not entitled to discover any information related to the District Sales Manager position. However, "plaintiff may still present evidence of discriminatory acts outside of the filing period if admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence." Kovoor v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 211 F. Supp.2d 614, 622 n.7 (E.D. Pa. 2002); National R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 113 (2002) (stating that an employee is not barred from using prior acts as background evidence in support of a timely claim). Therefore, Plaintiff is entitled to discover information concerning the District Sales Manager position. To the extent Defendant has withheld information about the DSM position, Defendant is now ordered to produce it to Plaintiff according to the geographical and temporal limits of discovery set forth in this Memorandum. Specifically, Defendant is to produce Plaintiff's Request Nos. 6, 11, 28, 33, and 34. To the extent Plaintiff's Request Nos. 40 and 41 and Interrogatory Nos. 2 and 3 seek information about District Sales Managers, those requests are granted.

  3. Branch Sales Manager

  Plaintiff's request for information related to the Branch Sales Manager position is clearly relevant to her case. Thus, Plaintiff's Requests Nos. 5, 9, 27, 30, 31, and 32 is granted Page 9 subject to the geographical and temporal limits of discovery.*fn2 To the extent Plaintiff's Requests Nos. 40 and 41 and Interrogatory Nos. 2 and 3 seek information about Branch Sales Managers, those requests are also granted.

 C. Other Discovery Requests

  1. Personnel Files

  In Request Nos. 17-26, Plaintiff seeks the entire personnel files of the following individuals: William Aimis, Stuart Chaires, Richard Reisig, Ethan Powers, John Richter, Martin Guiffre, Ira Grossman, Mark Scrivo, Gene Weeks, and Jim Mayer. Although Plaintiff is not entirely clear, it appears that all of these individuals, except for Powers, held the position of Branch Sales Managers with Defendant. With the exception of William Aimis, Plaintiff represents that she will accept the following documents from the personnel files: qualifications, performance reviews, compensation records, disciplinary complaints and actions taken as a result thereof. See Pl.'s Mot. to Compel ¶ 13 (Docket No. 15). For William Aimis, Plaintiff contends that she is entitled to the entire personnel file because Aimis replaced Plaintiff as Branch Sales Manager. Defendant represents that the entire personnel files of Ethan Powers, William Aimis, and Stuart Chaires have already been made available for review to Plaintiff's counsel. See Def.'s Resp. Page 10 to Pl.'s Mot. to Compel at 9 (Docket No. 19). Defendant objected to the other requests on the grounds that its geographical scope was overly broad.

  The geographical scope of discovery now encompasses the entire mid-Atlantic and Northeast divisions. Thus, to the extent Request Nos. 18-19, 20-26 refer to Branch Sales Managers in those regions, Defendant shall produce the documents requested by Plaintiff. For William Aimis (Request No. 17) and Ethan Powers (Requests No. 20), Defendant shall produce the entire personnel files to Plaintiff.

  2. Complaints against Defendant

  Interrogatory No. 8 and Request No. 38 seek information regarding complaints or claims of sexual discrimination made against Defendant. Defendant objects to these requests as overly broad and as designed to seek confidential privileged information.

  "Obtaining information of incidents of the same type is uniquely important in discrimination claims." Laurenzano v. Lehiqh Valley Hosp., Inc., No. 00-2621, 2001 WL 849713, at *1 (E.D. Pa. July 18, 2001). Courts have given a wide berth to such requests since "the nature of the proofs required to demonstrate unlawful discrimination may often be indirect or circumstantial." Miles v. Boeing Co., 154 F.R.D. 117, 119 (E.D. Pa. 1994). Thus, the Court finds that information regarding complaints of the same type at issue in this litigation is relevant and not overly broad. Defendant is directed to supplement its response to include claims or complaints of gender discrimination against Defendant for the Page 11 mid-Atlantic and Northeast divisions since June 1, 1998.

  3. Sales Representatives and Sales Figures

  Request No. 51 seeks documents showing the number of new sales representatives hired by Defendant for the past five years. Request No. 56 seeks documents showing the expected sales figures for first and second year sales representatives for each fiscal year for the past five years. Defendant has limited its response to the Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. branches. As the scope of discovery now encompasses the entire mid-Atlantic division and the Northeast division, Defendant shall supplement its response to include numbers for those areas as well.

  IV. CONCLUSION

  To summarize, the Court finds that the relevant geographical scope for discovery to be the mid-Atlantic division and the Northeast division. Except where specified, the temporal scope of discovery is limited to the period from June 1, 1998 to the present. Further, Plaintiff is entitled to discover information about the District Sales Manager, the Branch Sales Manager, and the Sales Representative position. Plaintiff is not entitled to discover information about the Regional Sales Manager position. Defendant shall supplement its discovery responses in accordance with these guidelines.

  An appropriate Order follows.


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