A federal judge in the Northern District of California has granted a plaintiff’s motion to compel in a case involving an Assistant Athletic Director, who was laid off by the University of California, Berkeley and subsequently sued the school and several individual defendants for discrimination and retaliation.
The judge’s ruling was significant in that the plaintiff’s request touched on multiple discovery issues and placed the defendants on notice that they could lose the right to any privileges unless they fully comply with the judge’s order.
In the underlying suit, Karen Moe Humphreys alleged that the decision to lay her off was based on her “being a strong and assertive woman who had spoken out against gender inequities in the Athletic Department,” wrote the court in citing the complaint. “She also alleged that she had been laid off because she had spoken out in opposition to the athletic department’s non-compliance with NCAA rules.”
The plaintiff filed her motion to compel after discovery had closed, arguing that the defendants’ responses had been inadequate and that the defendants had failed to fulfill their discovery obligations.
For example, she charged that the defendants had waived any privilege they had asserted because they had yet to produce a privilege log. See Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. v. United States Dist. Court, 408 F.3d 1142, 1149 (9th Cir. 2005) (finding privileges waived where party did not produce privilege log for more than five months). While the court agreed that defendant was in the wrong, it was unwilling to affirm a waiver, giving the defendant a little less than 30 days to disclose the log.
It next turned to the plaintiff’s allegation that the defendants had failed to turn over information about alleged “sweetheart deals” given to former members of the UC Berkeley athletic department.
The court wrote that the defendants had “refused to answer …, raising blanket objections to the plaintiff’s interrogatories and document requests, and instructing witnesses not to answer during deposition.
“The defendants argued that ‘the Athletic Department decided to lay off some of its employees to reduce expenses’ and that this managerial decision to eliminate plaintiff’s position is protected from review. Cotran v. Rollins Hudig Hall Int’l., 17 Cal. 4th 93, 100, 69 Cal. Rptr. 2d 900, 948 P.2d 412 (1998) (stating that courts must be careful not to interfere with ‘managerial discretion’ used when deciding whether to terminate an employee for good cause).
“Clearly, however, the defendants are not allowed to limit discovery based merely upon their theory of the case. The plaintiff has shown that the information requested is ‘relevant to the subject matter involved in the action.’ Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).” Thus, the court granted the motion with respect to plaintiff’s interrogatories and requests for production.
Finally, the court approved the plaintiff’s motion as it related to files maintained by several athletic department officials, ranging from notes from meetings to letters from student athletes. In all of those instances, the court ordered the defendants to either produce the documents, or explain why they couldn’t.
Karen Moe Humphreys v. Regents of The University of California, et al.; N.D.Calif.; No. C 04-03808 SI; 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20148; 4/3/06
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Andrew Thomas Sinclair, Sinclair Law Offices, Oakland, CA; Seung Yun Lee, Arne Wagner, Kathleen V. Fisher, Matthew Brooks Borden, Calvo & Clark, LLP, San Francisco, CA. (for defendants) Clariza Casenillo Garcia, Gary T. Lafayette, Paul Yang, Susan T. Kumagai, Lafayette & Kumagai LLP, San Francisco, CA.