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Johnson v. United States Postal Service

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 15, 2019

TYRA JOHNSON, Plaintiffs,

          Kane Judge.



         This matter is before the court on the defendant's motion for a protective order. (Doc. 35). The issues have been briefed and the motion is ripe for disposition. For the reasons set forth herein, we will grant the motion.

         I. Factual Background

         The plaintiff Tyra Johnson ("Johnson") filed a complaint against the United States Postal Service ("USPS") alleging violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") after she was terminated from her employment with the USPS. (Doc. 1). Johnson was hired by the USPS on June 29, 2013, as a Mail Handler Assistant ("MHA") at the Harrisburg Processing and Distribution Center. MHAs are temporary employees who serve in terms of 360 calendar days. As permanent Mail Handler positions become available, senior MHAs can convert to permanent employees subject to the successful completion of a 90-day probationary period. Johnson became eligible and converted to a permanent Mail Handler on May 30, 2015.

         Shortly before that conversion, Johnson notified USPS that she had a high-risk pregnancy and would require a light work duty assignment, which the USPS provided. The parties disagree about the subsequent facts in the case. Johnson claims that after she converted to a permanent status, the USPS refused to provide her with accommodations as it had done in the past. She further claims that the USPS forced her to take an unpaid leave of absence, unless she could return to work without restrictions. The USPS argues that it provided Johnson with the requested accommodations and approved her FMLA case once she produced the requisite medical documentation. Both parties agree that Johnson was separated from the USPS in August 2015. Johnson contends that she was terminated by the USPS because of her FMLA requests. The USPS maintains that it declined to retain Johnson after the 90-day probationary period because of performance and disciplinary problems.

         Johnson seeks deposition testimony from the USPS under Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(b)(6) regarding the employment records of all employees at the Harrisburg Processing and Distribution Center "at any time in the past five years" who converted to career employment. The USPS estimates the number of employees who fit into this category to be "at least 130, and perhaps as many as 337." (Doc. 35 ¶4). The USPS argues that this discovery request is "overly broad, seeking irrelevant information, and imposing a burden disproportional to the needs of the case." (Doc. 36, at 4). It has filed a motion for a protective order (Doc. 35) asking the Court to limit the scope of discovery to the fifteen MHAs who converted at the same time as Johnson.

         II. Legal Standards

         The scope of discovery in federal court is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26. Rule 26 is to be construed liberally. See Tele-Radio Sys. Ltd. v. DeForest Elecs., Inc., 92 F.R.D. 371, 375 (D.N.J. 1981)(citing Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351(1978)). Rule 26 permits parties to "obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged mater that is relevant to any party's claim or defense . . ." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b). "Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Id.

         A motion for a protective order is governed by Rule 26(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 26(c) permits "a party or any person from whom discovery is sought to move for a protective order limiting the scope of discovery. The motion must include a certification that the movant has in good faith conferred or attempted to confer with the other affected parties in an effort to resolve the dispute without court action."[1] Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1). Accordingly, the Court may, for "good cause," issue a protective order to shield a party "from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense." Id.; see also Pansy v. Borough of Stroudsburg, 24 F.3d 772, 786 (3d Cir. 1994) ("All such orders are intended to offer litigants a measure of privacy, while balancing against this privacy interest the public's right to obtain information concerning judicial proceedings.").

         The moving party "must demonstrate that 'good cause' exists for the order." Id. "Good cause" means "that disclosure will work a clearly defined and serious injury to the party seeking closure. The injury must be shown with specificity." In re Avandia Mktg., Sales Practices & Prods. Liab. Litig., 924 F.3d 662, 671 (3d Cir. 2019) (quoting Pansy, 24 F.3d at 786). Consequently, "broad allegations of harm, unsubstantiated by specific examples of articulated reasoning, do not support a good cause showing." Id. Courts considering whether "good cause" exists look to various factors, including but not limited to:

1. Whether disclosure will violate any privacy interests;
2. Whether the information is being sought for a legitimate purpose or for an ...

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