Decision: In Williams v. Superior Court, the California Court of Appeal denied the writ petition brought by a putative representative plaintiff seeking to overturn the trial court’s decision to deny discovery of the names and contact information of all of the defendant’s nonexempt employees in California. The plaintiff, a former employee of a retail store operated by Marshalls of CA in Costa Mesa, California, brought a representative action under the California Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) alleging various violations of California’s Labor Code. The trial court also ordered that the plaintiff could renew his motion after he had been deposed “for at least six productive hours,” and that Marshalls could attempt to show the substantive claims had no merit in opposition to that motion.
The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s decision, finding that the requested discovery was premature and that the employees’ privacy interests outweighed the plaintiff’s need for disclosure, particularly since the only allegations in the complaint pertained to the Costa Mesa store and there was no reason to conclude that the plaintiff had knowledge of a uniform, statewide policy. The court also concluded that staging discovery was warranted to delay the incursion of potentially unnecessary costs.
Impact: This case provides a good blueprint for employers to follow in attempting to defeat discovery regarding employees statewide in California. In order establish a need for such discovery that would outweigh privacy interests, plaintiffs must first establish that they were subjected to violations of the Labor Code. At that point, a trial court could consider whether the employment practice at issue was uniform throughout the company. Only if plaintiffs can reasonably establish these prerequisites could a trial court then consider whether statewide discovery was justified.