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Long v. Leggett & Platt, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 13, 2019

RANDAL LONG, Plaintiff,

          Robert J. Hagerty Hagerty & Bland-Tull Law LLC Attorney for Plaintiff Randal Long

          Christopher James Gilligan, Michael R. Miller, Margolis Edelstein, Attorneys for Defendant Legett & Platt, Incorporated.


          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This case concerns a claim of retaliation under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”). Presently before the Court is Plaintiff Randal Long's appeal pursuant to Local Rule 72.1(c)(1) of a discovery order entered by the Magistrate Judge assigned to the matter on June 13, 2018 (“Appeal”). Plaintiff's Appeal will be granted for the reasons that follow.


         This Court bases its factual recitation on the parties' statements of facts, Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”), the at-issue discovery requests and responses, the transcript of the proceedings held before the Magistrate Judge on June 8, 2018, and the Magistrate Judge's June 13, 2018 Opinion and Order (the “Order”).

         This is a mixed-motive case brought under NJLAD in which the Plaintiff alleges he was terminated from Defendant Long & Platt, Incorporated (“L&P”) in retaliation for reporting a claim of sexual harassment allegedly committed by another employee, Robert “Bobby” Keen. Plaintiff - except for a five-year hiatus between 1989 and 1994 - worked for L&P from 1982 until his termination in January 2016. At the time of his termination, Plaintiff was Senior Vice President of Sales. In April 2014, John Case was hired as President of L&P.

         On December 21, 2015, Plaintiff informed Robert Newcombe, the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, that Keen, an employee at L&P, was sexually harassing a female employee. No. action was taken by Newcombe or Case following Plaintiff's allegations. In January 2016, Plaintiff was informed that his employment was being terminated and he was given a severance package on January 15, 2016. Plaintiff claims he was terminated “in retaliation for his reporting the sexually harassing conduct of Keen, in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.”

         Plaintiff filed a complaint in New Jersey state court against Defendant on May 23, 2016. The complaint alleged retaliation and aiding and abetting under the NJLAD, and requested punitive damages. The matter was removed to this Court on August 11, 2016 based on diversity jurisdiction. Defendants[1] filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings on February 10, 2017. Plaintiff filed a Cross-Motion to Amend the Complaint on March 6, 2017.

         This Court's Opinion and Order on September 27, 2017 dismissed Case from the action, dismissed the aiding and abetting and punitive damages counts, and granted Plaintiff's request to file an amended complaint. Plaintiff filed the SAC on October 30, 2017 and L&P answered shortly thereafter. Discovery ensued.

         A discovery dispute arose between the parties, which is the subject of this appeal, concerning other complaints of sexual harassment against Keen. In Plaintiff's document request number eight (“Request 8”), Plaintiff requested documents “which reflect, support, arise from or otherwise relate to: any complaints of sexual harassment made against Robert “Bobby” Keen . . . .” (Hagerty Ltr. 2, Docket No. 48.) Defendant objected, asserting Request 8 sought “information outside the relevant time frame, irrelevant to the claims begin litigated, and not calculated to lead to admissible evidence.” (Id.) The Magistrate Judge heard argument on this document request on June 8, 2018.

         Plaintiff's theory of Request 8's relevance is relatively straightforward. Plaintiff alleges that Keen had been accused of sexual harassment several times before Plaintiff brought to the Defendant's attention information he received on Keen's alleged sexual harassment to Case. Plaintiff believes that what happened to him is part of a pattern by L&P of protecting Keen by retaliating against those who brought forth information on Keen's alleged sexual harassment of others. This pattern, Plaintiff theorizes, is relevant to L&P's motive for retaliation.

         On June 13, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued the Order determining that Defendant need not produce the documents outlined in Request 8. The Court rested this determination on several grounds. First, the Magistrate Judge cited this Court's Opinion, stating that only circumstantial evidence occurring between the protected activity and adverse action is relevant to causation. (Disc. Order 2.) Second, the Court concluded that “information concerning other complaints of harassment” is not relevant to a retaliation claim. (Id.) Third, the Magistrate Judge determined these other complaints would “offer[] little or no probative value and would strain the proportionality requirement of Rule 26.” (Id. at 3.) The reason: “Plaintiff's offered rationale” as to the relevance of these complaints (discussed supra) required multiple leaps and assumptions that significantly decreased the documents' probative value.

         On June 27, 2018, Plaintiff erroneously filed the Appeal as a “Motion to Compel Discovery (Appeal from Magistrate's Decision).” The Clerk placed a quality control message on the docket, requesting Plaintiff to re-file the Appeal as an “Appeal of Magistrate Judge Decision to District Court.” Plaintiff did so the following day. The Appeal has been fully briefed by both parties and is thus ripe for adjudication.


         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         This Court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, because there is complete diversity between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.

         B. ...

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