Emphasizing the broad right of discovery and the remedial nature of the California Private Attorneys General Act of 2004, the California Supreme Court has ruled that, in pretrial discovery, plaintiffs under PAGA has a right to employer records containing other employees’ names and contact information. Williams v. Marshalls of California, LLC, No. S227228 (July 13, 2017).
The trial court adopted, and the Court of Appeal upheld, a limited and phased approach to PAGA discovery. It allowed the plaintiff discovery on the names and contact information of only the other employees in the plaintiff’s same work location. The plaintiff had demanded statewide information. The trial court said that if the plaintiff could establish his claims after his deposition, it would entertain allowing broader discovery as to the defendant’s other stores.
In a 7-0 decision, the Supreme Court, reiterating two themes – the broad right to discovery and the remedial nature of PAGA, and reversed the lower courts’ decisions. It held that the lower courts improperly restricted the plaintiff’s right to “PAGA class” names and contact information on the basis of (1) overbreadth, (2) undue burden, and (3) privacy.
- Overbreadth: The Court reiterated that a party ordinarily may use interrogatories to seek the identity and location of witnesses, and it falls on the party resisting discovery to justify its objections. The Court further explained that nothing in PAGA suggests a limited scope or a limitation on discovery. To the contrary, the Court said, PAGA is a representative action that is remedial in nature and broad in scope, which supports broad discovery.
- Undue Burden: The Court dismissed this objection on relatively narrow grounds. It held that the defendant failed to provide concrete evidence on how or why this discovery request was unduly burdensome. Rather, the defendant generally argued that a PAGA plaintiff must establish good cause or some merit to his claims in order to justify broader discovery. The Court found no legal basis – whether in PAGA or under general discovery principles – for imposing such a limitation on discovery.
- Privacy: The Court rejected the privacy arguments advanced by the defendant and the lower courts. It found that the Belaire notice procedure provided sufficient protection to employee privacy, particularly given the fact that employee contact information does not constitute a “serious invasion of privacy” and that employees would likely want to be contacted about such lawsuits.