United States District Court, District of Columbia
RONDA L. DAVIS et al., Plaintiffs,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CHILD AND FAMILY SERVICES AGENCY et al., Defendants.
GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SANCTIONS Re Document No. 72.
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, District Judge.
In this putative class action lawsuit, Plaintiffs, former employees of the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency, allege that their employment was terminated as part of a discriminatory reduction in force - namely, that the agency's imposition of a bachelor's degree requirement for the position of "Family Social Worker" was a pretextual reason for terminating the putative class members based on their race and/or age. More than three years after this litigation began, the parties still have not completed the class certification phase. Instead, the parties remain mired in discovery disputes relating to Plaintiffs' failure to produce court-ordered discovery relevant to fundamental class certification issues.
Currently pending before the Court is the District of Columbia's (the "District") motion for sanctions, in which the District seeks monetary, evidentiary, and/or terminating sanctions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37. See generally Def.'s Mot. for Sanctions, Dec. 17, 2013, ECF No. 72. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the District's motion and order monetary sanctions against Plaintiffs' attorneys, David Rose and Donald Temple, in the amount of $4, 629.50.
At the outset of discovery in this action, the Court limited the scope of appropriate discovery topics to four questions, which the Court and the parties refer to as "Phase I" issues:
(1) the existence and statistical validity of group-based disparities caused by the reduction in force and/or the education requirements for Family Social Workers; (2) Plaintiffs' exhaustion of their administrative remedies; (3) the provision of notice in accordance with D.C. Code § 12-309; and (4) the appropriateness of class certification. See generally Sched. Order, Apr. 4, 2013, ECF No. 59. Phase I discovery closed on January 24, 2014, but there remain a number of open discovery disputes that the District brings to the Court's attention through its motion for sanctions. See Min. Order, Nov. 21, 2013.
A. First Set Of Interrogatories
The District served its first items of written discovery "[s]hortly after discovery commenced" in early 2013. See Def.'s Mem. in Supp. Mot. Sanctions, ECF No. 72-1, at 3. The discovery included a set of interrogatories and requests for production. See id. On approximately June 4, 2013, Plaintiffs provided the District with written responses and about 200 pages of documents. See id. Interrogatory number 8 asked each Plaintiff to "describe in detail your educational background since high school, including the name of each school or institution you attended, the dates of your attendance, your field(s) of study, and any degree earned." Def.'s Mot. Sanctions, ECF No. 72-2, at 2 (letter from Chad Naso to Joshua Rose, with Donald Temple cc'd, Sept. 6, 2013). Plaintiffs objected to the interrogatory and refused to answer on the basis of relevancy. See id. The interrogatory answers that Plaintiffs did provide were not verified by individual signatures. See id. at 1.
On November 7, 2013, the Court held a telephonic status conference to address the parties' disputes over written discovery. The Court found that the information sought through interrogatory number 8 was relevant to Phase I discovery issues and ordered that Plaintiffs respond to the request by December 9, 2013. See Min. Order, Nov. 7, 2013. When asked by the Court at a April 10, 2014, status hearing whether Plaintiffs had supplied the District with answers to interrogatory number 8, attorney David Rose, lead counsel for the putative class, restated his argument that this interrogatory is not relevant. Mr. Rose then confirmed that he had not yet provided the District with the required answers.
B. Right To Sue Letters
Also among the District's initial discovery items was a request for the production of Plaintiffs' "right to sue" letters. See Def.'s Req. Prod. No. 9, ECF No. 89-1. As part of their June 4, 2013, document production, Plaintiffs produced Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") charges signed by Zacchaeus T. Ajakaiye and Darius Morris on behalf of the putative class but did not produce any "right to sue" letters with respect to the charges. See Def.'s Mem. in Supp. Mot. Sanctions, ECF No. 72-1, at 3. On September 6, 2013, the District sent Plaintiffs' counsel a meet-and-confer letter outlining the deficiencies in their discovery responses, including the failure to produce the "right to sue" letters. See Def.'s Mot. Sanctions, ECF No. 72-2, at 1 (letter from Chad Naso to Joshua Rose, with Donald Temple cc'd, Sept. 6, 2013).
Following the November 7, 2013, conference, the Court ordered Plaintiffs to produce the "right to sue" letters, to the extent they exist at all, by December 9, 2013. See Min. Order, Nov. 7, 2013. In briefing on February 26, 2014, more than two months after they were ordered to produce the letters, Plaintiffs informed the Court that they had requested the letters but conceded that they failed to meet the discovery deadline. See Pls.' Suppl. Resp. Mem. Supp. Mot. Sanctions, ECF No. 84, at 7. To date, Plaintiffs have produced only one letter, that of Plaintiff Darrius Morris. See Pls.' Suppl. Resp. Mem. Supp. Mot. Sanctions, ECF No. 84-1. Indeed, at the April 10, 2014, status hearing, attorney David Rose informed the Court that he had not yet requested the "right to sue" letters from every named Plaintiff, and he could not tell the Court which Plaintiffs may or may not have the letters. Mr. Rose also informed the Court that the Plaintiffs he contacted did not look hard for the letters that may be in their possession. Thus, although the failure to provide the letters may be the fault of the individual Plaintiffs, it appears that, at the very least, counsel has made an inadequate inquiry with his clients regarding the existence of these documents.
C. Signed Verifications
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 33(b)(5) requires that "[t]he person who makes the answers [to interrogatories] must sign them, and the attorney who objects must sign any objections." On September 6, 2013, the District sent Plaintiffs' counsel a meet-and-confer letter outlining the deficiencies in Plaintiffs' responses to the first set of interrogatories, including the missing interrogatory verifications. See Def.'s Mot. Sanctions, ECF No. 72-2, at 1 (letter from Chad Naso to Joshua Rose, with Donald Temple cc'd, Sept. 6, 2013). Plaintiffs did not resolve this issue on their own, so on November 7, 2013, the Court ordered them to provide the verifications by December 9, 2013. See Min. Order, Nov. 7, 2013. Plaintiffs failed to meet this deadline. See Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Sanctions, ECF No. 72-1, at 3.
At the April 10, 2014, discovery status hearing, the Court asked David Rose whether he had provided to the District the verifications for each Plaintiff. Mr. Rose responded that he did not know why the signed verifications were important, and he told the Court that he was unsure if signed statements are required by the rules of civil procedure. At the same time, Mr. Rose conceded that he still had not complied with this requirement four months after the Court's deadline.
D. Second Set Of Interrogatories
On September 6, 2013, the District served a second set of interrogatories. See generally Def.'s Mot. Sanctions, ECF No. 72-3 (Def.'s 2d Interrogs.). Included in this set was an interrogatory asking Plaintiffs to "[i]dentify the class representatives for each class and/or subclass that Plaintiffs will seek to certify in this matter." See id. at Interrog. No. 1. Plaintiffs did not respond to the second set of interrogatories, despite the District's emails following up on the matter. See Def.'s Mot. Sanctions, ECF No. 72-4, at 2 (e-mails from Chad Naso to David Rose, Oct. 3-16, 2013). On October 28, 2013, Plaintiffs' counsel sent the District an email stating that "Darrus [sic] Morris is expected and and [sic] Cynthia Dudley are to be a class agents [sic] for the class of older employees; and Trina M. Robinson expected [sic] to be a class agent for the class of black workers harmed by the RIF." Id. at 8 (e-mail from David Rose to Chad Naso, with Donald Temple cc'd, Oct. 28, 2013). The District replied that it did not consider this email to be a formal response to the interrogatories. See id. at 7 (e-mail from Chad Naso to David Rose, with Donald Temple cc'd, Oct. 29, 2013).
On November 7, 2013, the Court ordered Plaintiffs to respond to the District's second set of interrogatories by December 9, 2013. See Min. Order, Nov. 7, 2013. In a telephone conversation on or around January 17, 2014, which was one week before the close of Phase I discovery, Plaintiffs notified the District that they intended to designate Plaintiff Karone Gray as an additional class representative. See Def.'s Suppl. Mem. Supp. Mot. Sanctions, ECF No. 80, at 11. The District, however, was unable to depose Ms. Gray before the close of Phase I discovery,  see id. at 3, and Plaintiffs did not file a formal response to the interrogatory before the discovery deadline. Nevertheless, the District deposed ...