California Supreme Court Grants PAGA Plaintiffs Right to Broad Discovery of Employee Contact Information

The California Supreme Court dealt another blow to employers defending wage and hour litigation in California by ruling that PAGA plaintiffs do not need to show good cause to justify broad discovery of the names and contact information of all potentially aggrieved employees at the outset of the case.

In Williams v. Superior Court (Marshalls of California), the plaintiff filed a representative claim under the Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”) against Marshalls on behalf of all non-exempt California employees alleging various labor code violations. Early in the litigation, the plaintiff sought the names, contact information and employment history for all approximately 16,500 potentially aggrieved employees statewide. The trial court limited the scope of the interrogatories to employees of the store where Plaintiff worked and required plaintiff to sit for “at least six productive hours of deposition” to determine if there was a basis for requiring production of the remaining employee information. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that as the party seeking to compel discovery, plaintiff must “set forth specific facts showing good cause justifying the discovery sought.”

The California Supreme Court reversed, holding that the plaintiff did not need to show good cause or provide proof of the merits of his claims in order to justify statewide discovery. Marshalls argued that providing information of 16,000 employees was an undue burden that justified restricting discovery until the plaintiff can show that employees at the other stores potentially incurred similar labor code violations. However, the court held that an employer objecting to production on the basis of undue burden must make a showing of “the quantum of work required” to respond to the discovery. The Court rejected Marshall’s argument because there was no evidence of the difficulty, expense or time it would take for Marshalls to provide the requested information. Finally, the Court held that privacy concerns will typically not bar discovery of unnamed employee information.

After Williams, PAGA plaintiffs are generally entitled to class-wide discovery from the outset of the litigation, which can be costly to employers and increases the risk of other employees filing claims. However, all is not lost. In opposition to requests for class-wide discovery, employers should be prepared to demonstrate the “quantum of work required” to respond to the requests in order to demonstrate an undue burden. Furthermore, employers should consider filing a motion pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure, section 2019.020 to request an order sequencing such discovery to avoid costs associated with class-wide discovery until a time that the plaintiff can show that the discovery is necessary to support a meritorious claim. Lastly, employers should be prepared to specifically state why the privacy concerns of its employees justify a limit on the plaintiff’s right to discovery.

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