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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. District of Columbia Public Schools

July 1, 2003

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC SCHOOLS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Currently before the Court is the Defendant's Motion for a Protective Order [#27] ("Def.'s Mot.") and Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion for a Protective Order and Request for Sanctions [#29] ("Pl.'s Opp'n"). For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion shall be granted and plaintiff's request for sanctions shall be denied.

I.

This is an action brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") against the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") for DCPS' alleged violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). The EEOC alleges that the DCPS violated the ADEA by terminating Dora Smith, a 67 year-old former school teacher with 37 years teaching experience. Compl. at 1.*fn1

This is the most recent of several discovery disputes that have arisen between the parties. At the center of the present dispute is a request by the EEOC that defendant produce the teaching disciplines of each teacher who was employed by the defendant during the 1995-96 academic year, the year in which Ms. Smith was terminated as a result of a Reduction in Force ("RIF").

Defendant argues that this information is not relevant to plaintiff's claim that she was terminated on the basis of her age because"the focus of this trial will be upon the RIF procedures in general and how those procedures were utilized by Principal Birchette. The total number of teachers who taught a particular subject will be of no moment." Def.'s Mot. at 4. In addition, defendant argues that"the DCPS Office of Technology has informed [defense counsel] that the data requested by plaintiff is not retrievable from its computer system, in any event. Succinctly stated, plaintiff seeks data that has little or no relevancy to its claim for relief and is perhaps retrievable [only] from a search of every personnel file in the possession of DCPS." Id.

In opposition, plaintiff argues that the information it seeks is relevant because it"needs the teaching disciplines to conduct a proper statistical comparison between teachers who were terminated under the 1996 reduction-in-force and ones who were retained." Pl.'s Opp'n at 1-2. Plaintiff states that the Court has already ordered the defendant to produce the teaching disciplines of all teachers employed during the 1995-96 time period in an Order dated December 17, 2002. See Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 (Court Order dated December 17, 2002). Further, plaintiff argues that defense counsel had not previously indicated that the information was not retrievable. Id. at 4. Plaintiff therefore asks the Court to infer that defense counsel is withholding the requested information"because it is damaging to [d]efendant's case" or alternatively because"[d]efendant is intentionally and cynically delaying discovery..." Id. Plaintiff asks that the Court sanction defendant by"accepting the EEOC's contention for purposes of this case that [d]efendant's 1996 reduction-in-force had a statistically significant, adverse impact on older employees[,]" or, alternatively, that the Court impose monetary sanctions against the defendant. Id. at 4-5.*fn2

In reply, defendant argues that plaintiff"fails to explain how [the information it seeks] is relevant to its age discrimination claim." Defendant's Reply to Plaintiff's Opposition to Motion for a Protective Order ("Def.'s Reply") at 1. Defendant argues that"plaintiff is now fully aware of the age of every teacher who was employed by DCPS prior to the RIF and the age of every teacher who was terminated as a result of the RIF. Based upon the data provided by defendant, [it argues that] the EEOC can now ascertain whether the [RIF] had a disparate impact upon any age group that it desires to analyze." Id. In addition, regarding the Court's prior order that defendant produce this information, defense counsel states it is his"recollection that in December the court invited the District to file a motion for a protective order, in the event that the requested information was not available from computer data." Id. Defense counsel states that he has been informed by Ulysses Keys, DCPS's Computer Specialist,"that the information as to each teacher's assignment in 1995 cannot be retrieved from the current computer data system." Id. at 2. Finally, defendant notes that it is not trying to delay these proceedings and anticipates filing a dispositive motion in this matter in a timely manner.*fn3

II.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b) outlines the general standards regarding the scope of discovery in civil litigation. Pursuant to subsection (b)(1) of the rule:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party, including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any books, documents, or other tangible things... For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action. Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). Although the standard for discovery is a broad one, it is not boundless. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) ("All discovery is subject to the limitations imposed by Rule 26(b)(2)(i), (ii), and (iii)."). Pursuant to Rule 26(b)(2), the court"shall" limit the discovery available to a party if it is determined that:

(i) the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or is obtainable from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive; (ii) the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity by discovery in the action to obtain the information sought; or (iii) the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit, taking into account the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties' resources, the ...


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