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Kinney v. Trustees of Princeton University

February 28, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hughes, U.S.M.J.


This matter is before the Court upon the Motion of Plaintiff Robert J. Kinney ("Plaintiff") for Sanctions pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26 and 37. Defendant Trustees of Princeton University (the "University") opposes the Motion. The University produced seventy four pages of relevant documents four days before the final pretrial conference. These documents had been requested by Plaintiff two years prior while discovery was ongoing. The Court reviewed the written submissions of the parties and conducted oral argument on February 26, 2007. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion for Sanctions is granted in part and denied in part.


A. Factual Background and Procedural History

On June 3, 2003, Plaintiff, a nine year Princeton University employee, filed an internal hostile work environment sexual harassment complaint against his supervisor, Gary Ufer, pursuant to Princeton University's Sexual Harassment Policy. (Pl.'s Br. at 4). In accordance with its policy, the University conducted an internal investigation of Plaintiff's complaint, and the matter was heard by the University's sexual harassment panel in August 2003. (University's Opp. Br. at 5; Pl.'s Br. at 4).

The Princeton University Sexual Harassment Panel Subcommittee concluded that Mr. Ufer's conduct violated the University's Policy on Sexual Harassment by creating a hostile and intimidating work environment. (Pl.'s Br. at 4). The committee recommended the following remedial actions: (1) Mr. Ufer's pay raise was reduced by half; (2) Mr. Ufer was relieved of supervisory authority over the Payroll department for at least six months; (3) Mr. Ufer was required to review the University's policy with Fred Clarke, Director of Labor Relations; and (4) a consultant was to be retained to examine management practices and employee roles in the Payroll Department. (University's Opp. Br. at 5). Plaintiff was notified of the committee's findings and recommendations by memorandum dated September 5, 2003. (See Pl.'s Ex. A).

As a result of the committee's findings, John ("Jack") Yuncza was appointed Acting Payroll Manager. (University's Opp. Br. at 5). Mr. Yuncza met with each Payroll department employee at the initiation of his assignment and communicated with them regularly. Id. Mr. Yuncza was Acting Payroll Manager at the end of September, when Plaintiff began his disability leave, and remained in this position for several months. Id. at 6.

On October 27, 2004, Plaintiff filed a complaint against the University alleging that the University failed to implement the recommendations of the subcommittee by failing to (1) remove Mr. Ufer from his supervisory duties involving the Payroll Department, (2) require Mr. Ufer to be psychologically evaluated, and (3) counsel Mr. Ufer on the University's Policies on Sexual Harassment. (Pl.'s Br. at 4-5). As a result of Mr. Ufer's continued involvement in the Payroll Department as Payroll Manager, Plaintiff alleged that he was unable to return to his place of work. Id. at 4. Plaintiff was ultimately terminated for "abandoning his job." Id. at 5.

Defendants Princeton University, Matthew Kent and Maureen Nash filed an Answer on December 20, 2004. (University's Opp. Br. at 6). The University contended that Jack Yuncza supervised the payroll department after Mr. Ufer was removed from that duty and that the workplace violence task force team was unrelated to the harassment issue. (Pl.'s Br. at 5). The University further contended that Mr. Ufer posed no threat to Plaintiff. Id.

B. Motion for Sanctions

On February 14, 2005, Plaintiff requested documents from the University regarding Plaintiff's claims and allegations, including Plaintiff's claim that the University failed to implement the remedial measures pertaining to Mr. Ufer. Id. On February 15, 2005, Defendants Princeton, Mr. Kent, and Ms. Nash served their Initial Disclosures pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a). (University's Opp. Br. at 6). Defendants included Mr. Yuncza as a person likely to have discovery information and described his knowledge as follows: "Mr. Yuncza is employed in the Treasurer's Office, and has knowledge pertaining to the supervision and operation of the Payroll Department after August 2003." Id. at 7.

Since discovery began, over 12 depositions have been taken and over thirteen hundred documents have been produced by the University. (Pl.'s Br. at 5). During this time, the University produced only one document authored by Mr. Yuncza which showed his direct interaction with the Payroll Department or its members. Id. Further, the University did not produce any notes, agendas, or hand written notes regarding the task force investigation of Mr. Ufer. Id. Fact discovery ended on December 19, 2005. Id.

While preparing the pretrial order, University counsel learned that Mr. Yuncza had a small desk file of documents that related to his role as Acting Payroll Manager. (University's Opp. Br. at 7). University counsel received these documents on January 12, 2007. Id. at 8. On January 15, 2007, in preparation for the Final Pretrial Conference, the parties met to confer regarding the pretrial memorandum. (Pl.'s Br. at 6). At this meeting, University counsel handed Plaintiff's counsel the documents received from Mr. Yuncza which she did not immediately review. Id. On January 17, 2007, Plaintiff received and reviewed the University's proposed exhibit list, which included over twenty documents, including handwritten notes, proposed evaluations, e-mail correspondence and workplace violence task force team notes regarding Plaintiff, that were dated between August and September 2003. Id. These documents had been requested by Plaintiff two years ago while discovery was on-going. Id.

Plaintiff filed the present motion for sanctions on January 20, 2007. (See Dkt. no. 04-5252, entry no. 62). Plaintiff alleges that the documents at issue were crucial to the present action. (Pl.'s Br. at 7). Plaintiff further alleges that the University's failure to produce these relevant documents was not harmless because it impacted Plaintiff's decision to depose certain witnesses. Id. Plaintiff contends that the University's untimely production is deceptive and unfair under the Rules. Id. Plaintiff further contends that the prejudice caused to Plaintiff by the University's conduct cannot be cured. Id. at 8. Therefore, Plaintiff moves for an Order (1) striking Defendant's Affirmative Defenses, (2) excluding the testimony of Jack Yuncza and all documents produced on January 15, 2007, and (3) granting monetary sanctions for the time spent in preparing this Motion. Id. at 7.

The University filed opposition to Plaintiff's motion for sanctions on February 6, 2007. (See Dkt. no. 04-5252, entry no. 64). The University concedes that its production of the documents was untimely, but argues that Plaintiff was not prejudiced because many of the documents were authored or received by Plaintiff himself. (University's Opp. Br. at 4, 10). The University further argues that Mr. Yuncza's relevance to the case cannot be a surprise to ...

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