United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
TANYA M. BURT, Plaintiff,
CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS, INC., Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
L. WHITE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs Renewed Motion to
Compel (ECF No. 26). The motion is fully briefed and ready
for disposition. Upon review of the motion and related
memoranda, the Court will grant Plaintiffs motion.
case stems from the termination of Plaintiff s employment as
a Human Resources Director for Defendant Charter
Communications, Inc. ("Charter") in the Spectrum
Reach Business Unit. (Compl. ¶¶ 5, 8, ECF No. 1)
Plaintiff alleges that she submitted a leave request under
the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29
U.S.C. §§ 2601, et seq., to care for her
cancer-stricken husband in the last weeks of his life.
(Id. at ¶¶ 10-12) She submitted another
FMLA leave request the following year after experiencing
emotional difficulties. (Id. at ¶¶19-20)
Plaintiff alleges that when she returned from leave, her
supervisor was hostile toward Plaintiff. (Id. at
¶¶ 14-17, 21-22) Plaintiff complained about this
treatment but claims that Defendant did not investigate the
retaliation complaint or take any corrective action.
(Id. at ¶¶ 23-24) On January 13, 2016,
Defendant terminated Plaintiffs employment, citing an
investigation into complaints lodged against Plaintiff by her
staff. (Id. at ¶ 25) Plaintiff asserts that she
was never advised about performance problems or any
investigation. (Id. at ¶ 27) She also claims
that men in senior positions received complaints from
co-workers, but Defendant took no corrective action, nor did
it terminate their employment. (Id. at ¶¶
October 26, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint alleging
discrimination and retaliation under the FMLA; discrimination
under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"),
42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, e/ seq.; and
discrimination under the Missouri Human Rights Act
("MHRA"), Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 213.010,
et seq. Plaintiff filed her initial motion to compel
on July 10, 2017, which the Court granted in part and denied
in part. (ECF Nos. 17, 24) Plaintiff then renewed her motion
to compel responses to Requests for Production Numbers 12
through 15 pertaining to, inter alia, complaints,
investigations, and performance reviews of four male
co-workers. (ECF No. 26) Defendant opposes the motion,
arguing that the male employees are dissimilar and thus not
scope of discovery for actions filed in federal court is set
forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26. That rule
Parties 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. Information within this scope of discovery need not
be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). "The rule vests the district
court with discretion to limit discovery if it determines,
inter alia, the burden or expense of the proposed discovery
outweighs its likely benefit." Roberts v. Shawnee
Mission Ford, Inc., 352 F.3d 358, 361 (8th Cir. 2003)
(citing Fed. R Civ. P. 26(b)(1)).
present case, Plaintiff seeks production of documents
pertaining to four male colleagues that she alleges are
similarly situated in that they also held high-ranking
positions with Defendant's company and were the subject
of similar complaints from their staffs, but they were
neither disciplined nor terminated from employment. Defendant
argues that the information is not discoverable because the
male employees were subject to a different decision maker and
engaged in different conduct; therefore they are not
similarly situated for purposes of Plaintiffs sex
discrimination claim. Defendant contends that a determination
of whether certain employees are similarly situated in
employment discrimination cases is proper at the discovery
stage of litigation. In support, Defendant cites cases from
the Eighth Circuit limiting discovery where the plaintiff
sought company-wide discovery. See, e.g., Semple v.
Federal Express Corp., 566 F.3d 788, 794 (8th Cir. 2009)
(limiting plaintiffs request for nationwide discovery to the
branch where plaintiff worked); Quinonez-Castellanos v.
Performance Contractors, Inc., No. 16-cv-4097-LTS, 2017
WL 3430511, at *4 (N.D. Iowa Aug. 9, 2017) (finding
company-wide discovery was not warranted absent a
particularized argument that the review of plaintiff s
termination by corporate human resources personnel evidenced
a corporate policy of discrimination or retaliatory conduct).
Plaintiff does not seek company-wide discovery but
information related to four male comparators that Plaintiff
alleges were similarly situated in that they also worked as
high-ranking officials in the same business unit, yet they
received unequal treatment. Contrary to Defendant's
position, the aforementioned cases did not engage in the
rigorous analysis of whether specific employees are similarly
situated at the discovery stage that Defendant now asks this
Court to undertake. Thus, the Court declines to perform such
analysis at this stage of the litigation.
also claims that Plaintiff is unable to make a threshold
showing of relevance with regard to the four individuals.
Upon thorough review of the motion and related pleadings, the
Court finds that Plaintiff has demonstrated the requisite
relevance in that she alleges the male executives also held
high-ranking positions in the same business unit, received
complaints from staff, yet were not disciplined or fired from
their positions. Additionally, the Court finds the document
requests are proportional to the needs of the case, as
Plaintiff claims that these four male individuals were
similarly situated yet were treated differently from
Plaintiff, a female. The rules of discovery "generally
promote a 'broad and liberal policy of discovery for the
parties to obtain the fullest possible knowledge of the
issues and facts before trial.'" Clayton Corp.
v. Altachem NV, No. 4:12-cv-01349-AGF, 2015 WL 2412178,
at *2 (E.D. Mo. May 20, 2015) (quoting In re MSTG,
Inc., 675 F.3d 1337, 1346 (Fed. Cir. 2012)). Further,
"[w]hether a comparator is similarly situated is
'usually a question for the fact-finder ....'"
Coleman v. Donahoe, 667 F.3d 835, 846 (7th Cir.
2012) (quoting Srail v. Village of Lisle, 588 F.3d
940, 945 (7th Cir. 2009)); see also McGhee v. Schreiber
Foods, Inc., 502 S.W.3d 658, 668 (Mo.Ct.App. 2016)
(same). Plaintiff is entitled to explore facts related to
whether her comparators are similarly situated.
Court notes that privacy concerns exist regarding the
production of personnel files. However, the Court also notes
that it previously entered a Consent Protective Order which
should eliminate any privacy concerns. Lyoch v.
Anheuser-Busch Cos., Inc.,164 F.R.D. 62, 69 (E.D. Mo.
1995). Therefore, the Court will grant Plaintiffs motion to
compel and order ...