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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Princeton Healthcare System

May 31, 2011

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PRINCETON HEALTHCARE SYSTEM,: DEFENDANT.



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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter having come before the Court on a Motion by Plaintiff Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("Plaintiff" or "EEOC") to compel discovery [dkt. entry. no. 11], returnable May 16, 2011. Defendant Princeton Healthcare System ("Defendant" or "PHCS") filed opposition on May 2, 2011. Plaintiff filed a reply brief on May 9, 2011. For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiff's Motion is granted, in part.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On July 31, 2007, Susan Nydick ("Nydick" or "Charge No. 524-2007-01127") filed a charge with EEOC alleging sex discrimination based upon her contention that her "request for [maternity] leave from 06/07/2007 to 09/08/2007 could not be granted" and that "if [she] was not able to work, [Nydick] would be released from employment effective with the eighth calendar day out" according to Defendant's Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") policy. See Pl.'s Decl. of Rosemary DiSavino ("DiSavino"), dkt. entry no. 11-1, Ex. B. On June 29, 2009, EEOC issued a Determination stating that it was "unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes a violation with respect to [Nydick's] allegations that she was discriminated against regarding the basis of sex". See Def.'s Opp'n Decl. of William Gibson, Esq. ("Gibson"), dkt. entry no. 13-2, Ex. A at 1. However, EEOC went on to say that "[a]rising out of the investigation, ...[EEOC informed Defendant] on August 15, 2008 that it would be expanding its investigation to include possible violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA")" because "the evidence indicat[ed] that [Defendant's] policy discriminates against a class of individuals covered by the ADA". Id. at 2. In the event that settlement efforts failed, EEOC indicated that it would "inform the parties and advise them of the court enforcement alternatives available to aggrieved persons and the EEOC". Id. at 3.

On December 1, 2008, Scott Satow ("Satow" or "Charge No. 524-2009-00174" or "Charging Party") filed a charge with EEOC alleging disability discrimination based upon his contention that his request for "leave in order to get treatment for [his] disability" was denied without Defendant "engag[ing] in the interactive process...[and/or] provid[ing] a reasonable accommodation" due to Defendant's FMLA policy and that Satow was disciplined for disability-related absences and "was discharged from employment" thereafter. See Pl.'s Decl. of DiSavino, Ex. D-E.

On August 11, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Complaint "under Title I of the ADA of 1990...and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 ("CRA")...to correct unlawful employment practices based on disability and to provide relief to Satow...and a class of employees and former employees of PHCS...who were covered by the ADA and who were adversely affected by such practices". See Pl.'s Compl., dkt. entry no. 1 at 1. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant "discriminated against [Satow] and a class of employees and former employees covered by the ADA by strictly enforcing blanket leave policies without granting requests for leave as a reasonable accommodation, thereby terminating [Satow] and members of the class". Id. at 1-2. The Court notes that the Complaint specifies that EEOC is the Plaintiff in this matter and that "Charge No. 524-2007-01127" and "Charge No. 524-2009-00174" were filed with EEOC "more than thirty days prior to the institution" of this lawsuit. Id. at 2-3. The Court also notes that Satow's EEOC "Charge No." and specific information related to the circumstances surrounding his employment and termination are included within the Complaint while Nydick's EEOC "Charge No." is the only reference to her within the Complaint. Id. at 3-4.

Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that "[s]ince at least January...2006, Defendant has engaged in unlawful practices in violation of Section 102 of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12112". Id. at 3. Despite the fact that "Satow and the class of employees and former employees have disabilities within the meaning of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2), and are qualified individuals with disabilities under the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8)" and "sought leave as a reasonable accommodation from Defendant related to their disabilities", Plaintiff alleges that "Defendant has had and continues to have policies that provide for progressive discipline for employees who have absences, that provide that an employee ineligible for leave under the FMLA will be terminated from employment if the employee cannot return to work after seven consecutive calendar days of absence, and that provide that an employee who has exhausted leave under the FMLA and who has not returned to work at the end of such leave will be considered to have voluntarily resigned". Id. Further, Plaintiff maintains that "Defendant has uniformly applied and continues to uniformly apply its policies, has not and does not engage in the interactive process with qualified individuals with disabilities who request sick leave related to their disabilities, and thus has failed to grant reasonable accommodations...resulting in [Defendant's] termination of Satow and a class of employees and former employees who are covered by the ADA". Id. "The effect of the complained of policies and practices is to deprive a class of current and former employees covered by the ADA of equal employment opportunities and to otherwise adversely affect their employment because of their status as persons with disabilities". See Pl.'s Br., dkt. entry no. 11 at 2.

On January 14, 2011, Plaintiff served Defendant with "Requests for Documents and Interrogatories". See Pl. Br.'s at 3. Defendant "provided a written response on February 15, 2011, noting its concerns about the scope and breadth of the document requests, most notably about the time period of documents requested and the relevance and burden of some of Plaintiff's requests". See Def.'s Opp'n Br., dkt. entry no. 13 at 2. Nevertheless, Defendant "began producing documents soon after serving this response" and, despite the current dispute, "has to date produced over 5,000 pages of documents...including the files of 48 employees who were denied a leave of absence and sought to return to work or were terminated for violating...Defendant's attendance policy" such that Plaintiff "has identified 7 persons who it claims are members of its class" to date. Id. at 2-3.

In an attempt to resolve a dispute regarding certain discovery requests, Plaintiff "notified Defendant of the deficiencies in its initial responses" in a letter dated February 28, 2011 and specifically requested substantive responses to Requests for Production Nos. 1-2 and responses for the period from January 1, 2000 to the present rather than from January 1, 2008 to the present as to all Requests for Production, including Request for Production No. 22. See Pl.'s Decl. of DiSavino, Ex. H at 1. On March 11, 2011, Defendant responded to Plaintiff's correspondence and, thereafter, counsel made "good faith attempts on at least two occasions to resolve this issue". Id., Ex. I; see also Def.'s Opp'n Br. at 3. Defendant notes that "on the question of the [temporal] scope of Plaintiff's requests, ...[despite its] belief that the proper period of relevance for the employee files began in 2008, ...if [Plaintiff's] counsel could explain why specific discovery of materials other than employee files was needed for an earlier period...such might be provided". See Def.'s Opp'n Br. at 3. With respect to "information about employees who had been granted leave", Defendant notes its "belief [is] that the burden of collecting and producing this information outweighed any likely benefit". Id.

Plaintiff's Requests for Production Nos. 1-2 and 22 seek the following documents:

1. Provide the following for each and every employee who requested a leave of absence related to their own medical condition during the relevant time, regardless of whether the request was granted or denied:

(i) Personnel and medical files;

(ii) Files containing any and all medical reports, correspondence, documents or information relating to or referring to each employee;

(iii) All documents relating to, referring to, reviewed as a result of or generated by each employee's request for a leave of absence, including but not limited to all documents which reflect Defendant's effort to engage in the interactive process with each employee;

(iv) All documents relating to, referring to or generated in connection with Defendant's efforts to replace the employee.

2. Provide the following for each and every employee who requested a reasonable accommodation for their disability or medical condition during the relevant time:

(i) Personnel and medical files;

(ii) Files containing all medical reports, correspondence, documents or information relating to or referring to each employee;

(iii) All documents relating to, referring to, reviewed as a result of or generated by each employee's request for a reasonable accommodation, including but not limited to any and all documents which reflect Defendant's effort to engage in the interactive process with each employee;

(iv) All documents relating to, referring to or generated in connection with Defendant's efforts to replace the employee, if necessary. ...

22. Provide the following for each and every employee who requested or required more than 7 consecutive days of sick leave during the relevant time:

(i) Personnel and medical files;

(ii) Files containing any and all medical reports, correspondence, documents or information relating to or referring to each employee;

(iii) All documents relating to, referring to, reviewed as a result of or generated by each employee's use of or request for more than 7 consecutive days of sick leave.

See Pl.'s Decl. of DiSavino, Ex. F at 4-5, 7. Plaintiff specified that "the relevant time period" refers to the "period from January 1, 2000 and continuing through the present". Id. at 2. In response, Defendant stated the following objections:

1. Defendant objects to this request on the grounds that it is vague, overbroad and unduly burdensome. Defendant further objects to this request to the extent that it seeks information protected by the attorney client privilege, the work product privilege doctrine, and/or applicable privileges and immunities.

2. Defendant objects to this request on the grounds that it is vague, overbroad and unduly burdensome. Defendant further objects to this request to the extent that it seeks information protected by the attorney client privilege, the work product privilege doctrine, and/or other applicable privileges and immunities. ...22. Defendant objects to this request the on the grounds that it is vague, overbroad and unduly burdensome. Defendant further objects to this request to the extent that it seeks information protected by the attorney client privilege, the work product privilege doctrine, and/or other applicable privileges and immunities. Defendant responds that it will produce the personnel and medical files of each employee who requested more than 7 consecutive days of sick leave during time period of January 1, 2008 until the present. The use of the term 'medical files' in this response applies only to medical files held in Defendant's capacity as an employer and does not include any medical files which may be held in Defendant's capacity as a medical provider or benefits administrator.

Id., Ex. G at 5-6, 13.

The Court conducted a telephone conference call on March 31, 2011 during which these issues were raised by counsel. Due to continuing and irreconcilable discovery disputes between the parties, Plaintiff filed the present Motion on April 21, 2011. See dkt. entry no. 11. The Court notes that a Discovery Confidentiality Order was entered in this matter on May 19, 2011. See dkt. entry no. 19.

A. Plaintiff's Arguments in Support of the Motion to Compel

1. The Court should grant Plaintiff discovery for the period of January 1, 2000 to the present so that Plaintiff may pursue a remedy for the entire class of harmed parties.

Initially, Plaintiff maintains that Defendant "is wrong" when "arguing that only employees who can allege an adverse action taken after January 2008 can belong to the class of persons for whom Plaintiff could conceivably bring a claim". See Pl.'s Br. at 6. Plaintiff contends that Defendant "ignores a plethora of case law...which permits production of pre-charge discovery in employment discrimination claims". Id. Further, Plaintiff argues that Defendant "improperly treats the individual limitations period and the scope of discovery synonymously and...compounds the error by erroneously ...


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