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Gibson v. Jetblue Airways Corp.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

July 18, 2019

LYNNE M. GIBSON, Plaintiff,
v.
JETBLUE AIRWAYS CORP., Defendant.

          ORDER

          THOMAS B. SMITH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This case comes before the Court without a hearing on Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Better Responses to Discovery (Doc. 56). Defendant opposes the motion (Doc. 58).

         Background

         Plaintiff Lynne M. Gibson, Ph.D. was hired by Defendant JetBlue Airways Corp. to work as a Senior Analyst, Assessment and Evaluation, working on the Assessment, Measurement, & Evaluation team at JetBlue University (Doc. 1, ¶ 9). Approximately seven months after Plaintiff was hired, she was fired (Doc. 53 at 1). Plaintiff complains that she was terminated on account of her age and race (Doc. 1). Defendant maintains that it fired Plaintiff because her “'job performance was objectively inferior to every other person on her team.'” (Id., ¶ 34).

         This motion concerns requests for production and interrogatories Plaintiff served on January 11, 2019 (Doc. 58-1; Doc. 58-2). Defendant responded to the discovery on February 28, 2019 (Doc. 58-3; Doc. 58-4). Plaintiff was not satisfied with the responses and after counsel conferred, Defendant supplemented its responses (Doc. 58-5; Doc. 58-6; Doc. 56 at 2). Plaintiff was still not satisfied and on May 30, 2019 sent a draft version of the motion to compel to Defendant (Doc. 58-7). Defendant provided a written response to the draft motion on June 5, 2019 (Doc. 58-8). On June 14, 2019 counsel met and conferred on various discovery issues and on June 17 (the day discovery closed), Plaintiff filed this motion (Doc. 58 at 9; Doc. 56).

         Discussion

          Plaintiff seeks to compel better responses to the following discovery.

Request for Production No. 13: The personnel files, including, but not limited to, those documents and writings used to determine plaintiff's qualifications for employment, promotions, transfers, salary, raises, pension eligibility, termination or other disciplinary action for:
a. Ms. Kramer
b. Curran Merrigan
c. Jessica Thompson
Response: Defendant objects to this Document Request on grounds it is vague, ambiguous, overbroad, unduly burdensome, not proportional to the needs of this single-plaintiff case, and lacks sufficient precision to permit a response. Specifically, this Document Request is unlimited in time and unreasonably demands, without any qualification or limitation whatsoever, that Defendant produce “[t]he personnel files, including but not limited to, those documents and writings used to determine plaintiff's qualifications for employment, promotions, transfers, salary, raises, pension eligibility, termination or other disciplinary action for…Ms. Kramer…Curran Merrigan…[and] Jessica Thompson.” However, the phrases “documents and writings” are neither limited nor defined, and are susceptible to multiple interpretations. Further, This Document Request also lacks sufficient precision to permit a response in that it is unclear how “[t]he personnel files…used to determine plaintiff's qualifications” have anything to do with “Ms. Kramer…Curran Merrigan…[and] Jessica Thompson.”
Defendant also objects to this Document Request to the extent that it seeks confidential, sensitive and personal information the disclosure of which would invade the privacy rights of current and/or former employees of JetBlue who are not parties to this action.

(Doc. 56-2 at 12-13).

         The request, as written, does not make sense. In fact, what Plaintiff wants are the personnel files for three of Defendant's employees she believes are potential comparators (Doc. 56 at 2-7). Defendant has only produced the file for Kramer who, it contends, is the only one of the three who is a true comparator (Doc. 58 at 13-15).

         Defendant's objections to the request are, for the most part boilerplate. Since the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were amended effective December 1, 2015, Rule 34 has required a party objecting to requests for production to: (1) “state with specificity the grounds for objecting to the request, including the reasons;” (2) “state whether any responsive materials are being withheld on the basis of that objection;” and (3) “[a]n objection to part of a request must specify the part and permit inspection of the rest.” Defendant's boilerplate objections are overruled.

         The Court does not believe Defendant's claim that it cannot respond because “the phrases ‘documents and writings' “are neither limited nor defined, and are susceptible to multiple interpretations.” The Court finds these objections disingenuous and they are overruled.

         The Court is concerned about the employees' interest in protecting any private or confidential information in their personnel files. Plaintiff argues that this concern is adequately addressed by the parties' confidentiality stipulation (Doc. 56 at 3). But that argument fails to explain why Plaintiff should have access to the entire files. Experience teaches that personnel files frequently contain information that has nothing to do with a person's qualifications, discipline, or discharge. For example, the files may contain the employees' health and benefit plan selections which, as far as the Court can tell, have nothing to do with this controversy.

         Plaintiff argues that the personnel files for Merrigan and Thompson are relevant to show how other employees who engaged in similar conduct were disciplined or discharged (Id. at 5-6). In its memorandum, Defendant counters that Merrigan and Thompson are not similarly situated in all material respects because they held different job titles and responsibilities, with differing levels of supervision, and were therefore evaluated differently (Doc. 58 at 14). It is relevant that similarly situated employees were treated differently, however, Merrigan and Thompson's positions within Defendant are too dissimilar to Plaintiff's to justify this request for their entire personnel files. That these employees are dissimilar was confirmed in Therese Schmidt's deposition testimony (Doc. 58-10 at 2-3). Therefore, even though this objection was not properly asserted in Defendant's response to the request for production, the motion to compel the Merrigan and Thompson personnel files is DENIED.

Request for Production No. 21: All documents relating to administrative charges of discrimination (e.g., with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or any similar state or local agency), or any civil action alleging employment discrimination based age, filed by any employee of defendant within the past five years.
Response: Defendant objects to this Document Request on grounds it is vague, ambiguous, overbroad, unduly burdensome, not proportional to the needs of this single-plaintiff case, and lacks sufficient precision to permit a response insofar as it is not limited to the relevant time period and decisional unit. Further, Defendant objects to this Document Request on grounds it is vague, ambiguous, overbroad, unduly burdensome, and not proportional to the needs of this single-plaintiff case given its use of the terms “all” and “relating”, which are neither limited or defined, and which are susceptible to different interpretations[.] Moreover, Defendant objects to this Document Request to the extent it seeks documents that are immune from discovery pursuant to the attorney-client privilege and/or work-product doctrine.
Additionally, Defendant objects to this Document Request to the extent it seeks publicly-filed court records, which are equally available to Plaintiff. Defendant also objects to this Document Request to the extent it seeks confidential, sensitive and personal information the disclosure of which would invade the privacy rights ...

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