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Matthew Strait, On Behalf of Himself and Similarly Situated Others v. Belcan Engineering Group

June 18, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge:


Two motions are before the Court. One is Plaintiffs' motion contesting Defendants' confidentiality designations requiring certain documents to be filed under seal, and the other is the parties' agreed motion for leave to file certain documents under seal. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Plaintiffs' motion and grants, in part, the parties' agreed motion. The Court takes the remainder of agreed motion under advisement pending further briefing from Defendant.


Plaintiff Matthew Strait ("Strait"), for himself and purportedly on behalf of those who are similarly situated, brought the present lawsuit on February 24, 2011, asserting that Defendant Belcan Engineering Group, Inc. ("Belcan"), has violated the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), the Illinois Minimum Wage Law ("IMWL"), and the Illinois Day and Temporary Labor Services Act ("DTLSA"). (R. 1, Compl. ¶ 1.) According to the Complaint, Belcan is an Ohio corporation and one of the country's largest providers of third-party contracting services of full-service engineering contractors, employing thousands of contractors throughout Illinois and the United States. (Id.) Strait alleges that Belcan has refused to pay him and other employees an overtime premium for hours they have worked in excess of 40 hours per week and has instructed employees that they are not entitled to receive overtime. (Id.)


"There is a strong presumption toward public disclosure of court files and documents." In re Bank One Secs. Litig., 222 F.R.D. 582, 585 (N.D. Ill. 2004) (citing Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court, 457 U.S. 596, 603, 102 S. Ct. 2613, 73 L. Ed. 2d 248 (1982)). The Seventh Circuit teaches that "[i]nformation that affects the disposition of litigation belongs in the public record unless a statute or privilege justifies nondisclosure." United States v. Foster, 564 F.3d 852, 853 (7th Cir. 2009). "[S]ecrecy is fine at the discovery stage, before the material enters the judicial record. But those documents, usually a small subset of all discovery, that influence or underpin the judicial decision are open to public inspection unless they meet the definition of trade secrets or other categories of bona fide long-term confidentiality." Id. (internal citations and quotation marks omitted); see also In re Specht, 622 F.3d 697, 701 (7th Cir. 2010) ("Documents that affect the disposition of federal litigation are presumptively open to public view, even if the litigants strongly prefer secrecy, unless a statute, rule, or privilege justifies confidentiality."); Hicklin Eng., L.C. v. Bartell, 439 F.3d 346, 348 (7th Cir. 2006) ("We have insisted that litigation be conducted in public to the maximum extent consistent with respecting trade secrets, the identities of undercover agents, and other facts that should be held in confidence.") (citing cases).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 26(c) provides that a court "may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense, including . . . requiring that a trade secret or other confidential research, development, or commercial information not be revealed or be revealed only in a specific way." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c)(1)(G). The Seventh Circuit has made it clear that in order to show good cause to file a document or portion thereof under seal, the requesting party must "analyze in detail, document by document, the propriety of secrecy, providing reasons and legal citations." Baxter Int'l v. Abbott Labs, 297 F.3d 544, 548 (7th Cir. 2002). Moreover, if a party claims that injury will result from public disclosure of certain information, it must provide support for such a statement. Bank One, 222 F.R.D. at 588 (citing Baxter Int'l, 297 F.3d at 547).) After a court enters a protective order, "a party must continue to show good cause for confidentiality when challenged." Id. at 586 (citing Union Oil Co. of Cal. v. Leavell, 220 F.3d 562, 568 (7th Cir. 2000)).


I. Strait's Motion

In its motion, Strait contests Belcan's confidentiality designations with respect to numerous documents that Belcan produced during discovery. Belcan has designated such documents as "CONFIDENTIAL--UNDER SEAL" pursuant to the agreed protective order that the Court entered on September 7, 2011. (R. 51.) Strait indicates that it may file some of those documents with the Court, and it contends that good cause does not exist to file them under seal. See, e.g., In re Specht, 622 F.3d at 701; Baxter Int'l, 297 F.3d at 548.

Strait has provided an example of each document to the Court for in camera review. The documents at issue fall into two categories. The first category consists of Excel spreadsheets containing data from 89 different single workweeks of Belcan's employees' time records (the "Excel Spreadsheets"). The data fields in the Excel Spreadsheets include employee number, work date, current supervisor, employment status, current locality, current location description, project/work order, cost code, pay type, pay type description, job type week worked, hours, total gross pay for workweek, current location, and current location description. Each Excel Spreadsheet contains approximately 5000 rows of data representing approximately 1200 time records for Belcan's direct exempt full time employees. Strait proposes to file the following data fields publicly: employee number, work date, current supervisor, current location description, pay type description, hours, and total gross pay for workweek. (R. 68, Pl.'s Mot. at 4.)

The second category of documents consists of approximately 851 pages of payroll registers for approximately 215 direct-exempt employees, representing the employees' final paychecks (the "Payroll Registers").The Payroll Registers contain the following information: historical payroll register, date, company home, home business unit, payment code, description of pay type, pay type description, current hours, rate of pay, and tax deductions. Strait proposes filing only the first page of each Payroll Register, and it has agreed to redact the social security number, YTD dollars, YTD hours, and Tax and 401K deduction information.*fn1 The fields that Strait proposes filing publicly include company home, home business unit, current hours, and rate of pay.

II. The Parties' Agreed Motion

The parties jointly request leave to file seventeen documents under seal that Belcan produced during discovery and marked either "CONFIDENTIAL-UNDER SEAL" or "ATTORNEYS' EYES ONLY." Strait has provided copies of such documents to the Court for in camera inspection. Eight of the seventeen documents contain the same type of information as the Excel Spreadsheets and the Payroll Registers. Five of the seventeen documents contain "highly confidential, proprietary information" about one of Belcan's clients, including "technical information, organizational information, and information about [the client's] accounting system and process." (R. 75, Joint Mot. at 4.) The remaining four documents contain "highly confidential, proprietary information about Belcan's internal ...

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