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Lucas v. Gold Standard Baking, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 24, 2017

BRIAN LUCAS, ARONZO DAVIS, and NORMAN GREEN, on behalf of themselves and similarly situated laborers, Plaintiffs,
v.
GOLD STANDARD BAKING, INC., PERSONNEL STAFFING GROUP, LLC d/b/a MVP, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          YOUNG B. KIM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the court is Defendant Personnel Staffing Group, LLC d/b/a Most Valuable Personnel's (“MVP”) motion challenging the “attorneys' eyes only” (“AEO”) designation for portions of nonparty Rosa Ceja's[1] deposition testimony. For the following reasons, the motion is granted:

         Background

         Plaintiffs allege in this case that Defendants denied them employment because of their race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (R. 322, Fifth Am. Compl. ¶ 1.) MVP is a “temporary staffing agency” with an office in Cicero, Illinois, which “provides temporary labor personnel to third party clients, ” including Defendant Gold Standard Baking, Inc. (“GSB”). (R. 326, MVP's Ans. ¶¶ 16, 49.) Plaintiffs accuse GSB and MVP of “engaging in a discriminatory practice of assigning almost exclusively Latino employees to work at [GSB], ” to the detriment of African American workers. (R. 322, Fifth Am. Compl. ¶ 71.)

         In November 2014 Plaintiffs attached to a response brief a declaration signed by Ceja and disclosed her as a nonparty witness. (R. 393, MVP's Mem. at 2.) Plaintiffs describe the declaration as “outlining in devastating detail the specific ways in which MVP engaged in the making of discriminatory assignments to GSB.” (R. 404, Pls.' Resp. at 6, Ex. E.) Plaintiffs later disclosed a declaration from Pamela Sanchez and also identified her as a nonparty witness. (R. 393, MVP's Mem. at 6.) MVP previously employed Ceja and Sanchez as dispatchers, (id. at 1; R. 404, Pls.' Resp. at 1), but neither of them has worked for MVP for more than two years, (R. 393, MVP's Mem. at 6).

         MVP deposed Ceja on January 24, 2017. (Id.) MVP asked Ceja how she became involved in this case. (Id. at 2-3.) As part of that questioning, MVP asked Ceja about communications with Sanchez. (Id.) Plaintiffs' attorney Christopher Williams objected on the basis that the information sought was “covered by the National Labor Relations Act [“NLRA”] in terms of employee communication.” (Id., Ex. A, Ceja Dep., Jan. 24, 2017, at 116:23-117:16.) Williams allowed Ceja to answer MVP's questions, but designated her testimony related to communications between Ceja and Sanchez as AEO (“Designated Testimony”).[2] (Id., Ex. B.) MVP disagreed and reserved the right to contest the AEO restriction. (Id., Ex. A, Ceja Dep. at 116:23-121:1.)

         Analysis

         MVP challenges Plaintiffs' AEO restriction for the Designated Testimony. (R. 388, MVP's Mot.) District courts have broad discretion over discovery issues. See Thermal Design, Inc. v. Am. Soc'y of Heating, Refrigerating & Air-Conditioning Eng'rs, Inc., 755 F.3d 832, 837 (7th Cir. 2014). Although generally “‘pretrial discovery must take place in the public, '” In re Aqua Dots Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 08 CV 2364, 2009 WL 1766776, at *1, *4 (N.D. Ill. June 23, 2009) (quoting Am. Tel. & Tel. Co. v. Grady, 594 F.2d 594, 596 (7th Cir. 1979)), a court may limit discovery if a subpoena requires “disclosing a trade secret or other confidential research, development, or commercial information, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(d)(3)(B)(i).[3] “Before restricting discovery, the court should consider ‘the totality of the circumstances, weighing the value of the material sought against the burden of providing it, ' and taking into account society's interest in furthering ‘the truthseeking function' in the particular case.” Patterson v. Avery Dennison Corp., 281 F.3d 676, 681 (7th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted).

         Plaintiffs argue that Sections 7 and 8 of the NLRA protects the confidentiality of Ceja's communications with Sanchez. (R. 404, Pls.' Resp. at 1-2, 4-8.) Section 7 provides that “[e]mployees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” 29 U.S.C. § 157 (2017). Section 8 provides that “[i]t shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer . . . to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed” in Section 7. Id. § 158(a)(1). But even if the subject conversations between Ceja and Sanchez were had for purposes of engaging in concerted activities, Sections 7 and 8 do not support the AEO designation in this case.

         The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) has established a three-part test to determine the legality of discovery relating to employees' protected concerted activities: “(1) the questioning must be relevant; (2) if the questioning is relevant, it must not have an ‘illegal objective'[;] and (3) . . . the employer's interest in obtaining the information must outweigh the employees' Section 7 confidentiality interests.” See Am. Broad. Cos., 33 N.L.R.B. AMR 70 (May 24, 2006) (citing Guess?, Inc., 339 N.L.R.B. 432, 434 (2003)). As to the first factor, there is no genuine dispute that MVP's questioning of Ceja regarding her motivation for becoming involved in the present case is relevant to MVP's non-discrimination defenses.[4] (R. 393, MVP's Mem. at 5-6.) Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), a party may obtain discovery regarding:

any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.

         Discovery requests are relevant if there is a possibility that the information sought may be relevant to the subject matter of the action. Clark v. Ruck, No. 13 CV 3747, 2014 WL 1477925, at *2 (N.D. Ill. April 15, 2014).

         MVP's questions about how Ceja became involved in this case are relevant to its defense of this action. Ceja, a former MVP dispatcher, is a “key witness” for Plaintiffs. (R. 393, MVP's Mem. at 2-3, 5; R. 404, Pls.' Resp. at 6.) Plaintiffs describe Ceja's declaration as “outlining in devastating detail the specific ways in which MVP engaged in the making of discriminatory assignments to GSB.” (R. 404, Pls.' Resp. at 6, Ex. E.) And, Plaintiffs have relied heavily upon Ceja's attestations in pursuing their case. (R. 393, MVP's Mem. at 2, 4-5.) The Designated Testimony relates to Ceja's possible motive for becoming involved in this case and her alleged bias against MVP. (Id. at 5-6.) As such, this information may affect her “credibility and the weight that should be given to [her] accusations” at trial. (Id.)

         Furthermore, MVP's questioning of Ceja does not have an “illegal objective.” As purported evidence of an improper motive, Plaintiffs point to complaints filed with the NLRB showing MVP's history of allegedly “abusive” litigation tactics. (R. 404, Pls.' Resp. at 4-8, Exs. B, J.) Those complaints relate to state court actions that MVP brought against individuals who are not named plaintiffs in this case. (Id.) One of the complaints cited is from an Illinois defamation action filed by MVP against Ceja.[5] (Id., Ex. J.) See MVP v. Ceja, No. 15 L 31 (Ill. Ct. Cl., Lake Cty.). But the cases involving MVP and Ceja as named parties are now ...


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