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JONES v. HOSPITAL OF UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania


May 24, 2004.

CAROL JONES
v.
HOSPITAL OF UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA

The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD B. SURRICK, District Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents (Doc. No. 11). For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTS

  Plaintiff, Carol Jones, began employment with Defendant, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, as a patient care supervisor on July 30, 2001. From April 1, 2002, until October 1, 2002, Plaintiff was on maternity leave. On October 8, 2002, Plaintiff was terminated for allegedly sleeping during suicide watch. On March 28, 2003, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The EEOC dismissed Plaintiff's charge on August 1, 2003. (Jt. Case Rep. at 1.)

  As originally filed, Plaintiff's Complaint alleged violations of Title VII and the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA").*fn1 Plaintiff claims that Defendant's proffered reason for terminating Plaintiff, sleeping while on suicide watch, was a pretext for Defendant's pregnancy discrimination.

  Defendant claims that it has a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions. Defendant contends that following Plaintiff's six-month leave, she was restored to her previous position. (Jt. Case Report at 2.) Defendants maintain that Plaintiff was terminated for performance reasons; specifically, for sleeping during suicide watch.

  On March 5, 2004, Plaintiff submitted written discovery requests to Defendant. On April 5, 2004, Defendant submitted objections and responses to Plaintiff's requests. On April 19, 2004, Plaintiff's counsel wrote to Defendant's counsel, indicating that interrogatories 2, 6, 7, and 14 were incomplete, and requesting responses. At that time, Plaintiff also requested personnel files for all similarly situated employees.

 II. LEGAL STANDARD

  "It is well-established that the scope and conduct of discovery are within the sound discretion of the trial court." Gaul v. Zep Mfg. Co., Civ.A. No. 03-2439, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1990, at *2-3 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 5, 2004) (quoting Marroquin-Manriquez v. Immigration and Naturalization Serv., 699 F.2d 129, 134 (3d Cir. 1983)). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), a party may seek discovery of "any matter, not privileged, which is relevant to the subject matter in the pending action." FED. R. CIV. P. 26(b)(1). "The information sought need not be admissible at the trial if the information sought appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Id.

  Rule 37 "authorizes a party who has received evasive or incomplete answers to discovery authorized by . . . Rule 26(a) to bring a motion to compel disclosure of the materials sought." Northern v. City of Phila., Civ.A. No. 98-6517, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4278, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 4, 2000). Once a party opposes a discovery request, the party seeking the discovery must demonstrate the relevancy of the information sought. Id. at *5. "When this showing of relevancy is made, the burden then shifts back to the party opposing discovery to show why the discovery should not be permitted." Id. A party's statement "that the discovery sought is overly broad, burdensome, oppressive, vague or irrelevant is `not adequate to voice a successful objection.'" Id (quoting Josephs v. Harris Corp., 677 F.2d 985, 992 (3d Cir. 1982)). Further, "[i]t is well recognized that the federal rules allow broad and liberal discovery", Pacitti v. Macy's, 193 F.3d 766, 777 (3d Cir. 1999), and relevancy is broadly construed, Oppenheimer Fund. Inc. v. Sanders. 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978) ("The court should and ordinarily does interpret `relevant' very broadly to mean matter that is relevant to anything that is or may become an issue in the litigation.").

 III. DISCUSSION

  A. Requests for More Complete Answers to Interrogatories

 Interrogatory #2

  Plaintiff requested the following:

Identify each person similarly situated to plaintiff who[m] Defendant employed between July 2001 and October 2001,*fn2 and for each: (a) state whether the person is male or female, (b) state the date(s) each person began their employment for Defendant, (c) state whether the person has taken any form of leave of absence from work, and if so, (i) describe the leave taken, (ii) state whether the person returned to work, and (ii) state whether the person was terminated after returning to work.
(Defs.' Objections and Resp. to PL's First Set of Interrogs. at 3, attached as Ex. B to Mot. to Compel More Complete Answers to Written Disc.)

  Defendant objected, stating that the request was "overly broad, unduly burdensome, and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." (Def.'s Objections and Resp. to Pl.'s First Set of Interrogs. at 3.) Defendant also objected, stating that it was not clear what "similarly situated" meant. After careful review of all documents related to Plaintiffs discovery requests, we are satisfied that Plaintiff's use of the description "similarly situated" refers to those employees that, like Plaintiff, were employed as patient care observers. Under the circumstances, we are not persuaded that Plaintiff's request, which is limited to the specified time period, is overly broad or unduly burdensome. Moreover, it is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

 Interrogatory #6

  Interrogatory #6 states: "Identify and describe any incidents of poor job performance, discipline or warnings issued to or committed by Plaintiff and the other persons named in interrogatory #2." (Defs.' Objections and Resp. to PL's First Set of Interrogs. at 5, attached as Ex. B to Mot. to Compel More Complete Answers to Written Disc.)

  Again, Defendant objects on the basis that the request is "overly broad and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." (Id.) Again, we disagree. Defendant provides a response to this request as to only the Plaintiff. Defendant is directed to supplement this response with information related to those individuals identified in interrogatory #2.

 Interrogatory #7

  Interrogatory #7 states: "Identify and describe any awards or commendations for good performance given to Plaintiff and the other persons named in interrogatory #2." (Id. at 6.) Defendant responds by "incorporat[ing] its Objections and Responses to Interrogatory No. 2." (Id.) Again, we cannot agree that the request is "overly broad, unduly burdensome, [or] not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." (Id. at 3.) Defendant is directed to supplement its response to interrogatory #7 with information related to those individuals identified in interrogatory #2.

 Interrogatory #14

  Interrogatory #14 states:

State whether there have been other charges, complaints or claims of gender or pregnancy discrimination threatened or filed against the Defendant by a present or former employee since January 1, 2000, and if the answer is yes, (a) identify the complaining party, (b) identify the caption of the court action filed, if any, (c) describe the nature of the charge, and (d) state what action, if any, Defendant took in response to the charge.
(Defs.' Objections and Resp. to Pl.'s First Set of Interrogs. at 8, attached as Ex. B to Mot. to Compel More Complete Answers to Written Disc.) Defendant objects "on the grounds that it is irrelevant, overly broad, vague, and any attempt to respond would be unduly burdensome." (Id.) In a letter to Plaintiff's counsel, dated April 28, 2004, Defendant's counsel further objected to Plaintiff's request, stating: "[Y]our client does not have any gender discrimination claim; her claim is limited to one under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act." (Letter from Derewicz to Dion of 4/28/04 at unnumbered 1.) We agree. Count I of the Complaint claims that Defendant "violated 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. by discriminating against, retaliating against, failing to reasonably accommodate, and terminating plaintiff based on her pregnancy." (Compl. at ¶ 14 (emphasis added).) Plaintiff does not allege that these actions were taken based on Plaintiff's gender. Because Plaintiff's Complaint does not allege a claim of gender discrimination, the information related to previous claims of gender discrimination are not relevant to Plaintiff's case. However, we will direct Defendant to answer Plaintiff's interrogatory as it relates to claims of discrimination based on pregnancy. In light of the fact that Defendant will not have to provide a response that includes claims of gender discrimination, the request is likely to be significantly less burdensome. Moreover, this information is clearly relevant to Plaintiff's claim, especially in light of Defendant's affirmative defense that it "maintains and enforces policies that prohibit unlawful discrimination, and provides a mechanism by which employees may seek redress where unlawful workplace discrimination is alleged." (Answer, Affirmative Defenses at ¶ 13.)

  B. Requests for Production of Documents

 Request #12

  In request #12, Plaintiff asks Defendant to provide: "Documents relating to the job performance of each person named in response to interrogatory #2, including without limitations: evaluations, disciplinary notices, warnings, counseling memoranda, awards and commendations." Defendant objects, stating that the request is "vague, overly broad, unduly burdensome, and seeks private information not relevant to this lawsuit." We disagree. The requested documents could reasonably lead to evidence related to Defendant's treatment of Plaintiff as compared to Defendant's treatment of similarly situated employees. Because this request is limited to those individuals identified in interrogatory #2, we do not agree that the request is overly broad or unduly burdensome.

 Request #14

  In request #14, Plaintiff asks Defendant to provide "[d]ocuments relating to leave of any kind requested or taken by the persons named in response to interrogatory #2." (Def.'s Objections and Resp. to PL's First Request for Produc. of Docs, at ¶ 14.) Defendant objected to this request, claiming that it is "vague, overly broad, unduly burdensome, and seeks private medical information not relevant to this lawsuit." (Id. at 4.) We disagree. The basis for Plaintiff's claim is that her termination was in some way related to need for medical leave. In light of the purpose of the federal discovery rules, we conclude that Plaintiff's request is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. See Oppenheimer Fund. Inc. v. Sanders. 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978) ("The court should and ordinarily does interpret `relevant' very broadly to mean matter that is relevant to anything that is or may become an issue in the litigation."). As to Defendant's concern that the documents might contain private medical information, we will direct the parties to enter into a confidentiality agreement limiting the use of this information to this lawsuit.*fn3

 Personnel Files

  It appears that subsequent to the filing of this Motion, Plaintiff discovered information that allegedly indicates that several employees who were similarly situated to Plaintiff had received the benefit of a warning before being terminated for sleeping on the job. In light of this information, and in light of the fact that Defendant had previously denied having knowledge of the existence of such individuals, Plaintiff has requested "all of the personnel files of all patient care observers since inception of the program in December 2000." (Letter from Dion to Conley of 5/21/04.) Plaintiff also submits that this request should not be overly burdensome because Defendant has maintained only eight to fifteen patient care observers in employment. (Id.) We will direct Defendant to provide Plaintiff with these personnel files, which will also be subject to a confidentiality agreement, and privileged information may be appropriately redacted.

 IV. CONCLUSION

  Based on the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents will be granted in part and denied in part.

  An appropriate Order follows.

  ORDER

  AND NOW, this 25th day of May, 2004, upon consideration of Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents, and all papers filed in support of and opposition thereto, it is ORDERED as follows:

1. Defendant shall provide Plaintiff with a complete response to interrogatory #2, as to all patient care observers employed between July 2001 and October 2002;
2. Defendant shall provide Plaintiff with a complete response to interrogatory #6 and interrogatory #7, as to all individuals identified in interrogatory #2;
3. Defendant shall provide Plaintiff with a complete response to interrogatory #14, as it relates to all previous claims of pregnancy discrimination;
4. Defendant shall comply with document requests #12 and #14;
5. Defendant shall provide Plaintiff with the personnel files of all patient care observers employed since December 2000;
6. Plaintiff shall enter into a confidentiality agreement with Defendant; and
7. In light of the discovery deadline, Defendant shall comply with this Order immediately.
IT IS SO ORDERED.


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