Court Permits “Former Employer” Discovery in Sexual Harassment Case

In Ghonda v. Time Warner Cable, Inc., 16-cv-2610, 2017 WL 395111 (EDNY Jan. 27, 2017) – in which plaintiff asserts claims of employment (gender) discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation – the court denied plaintiff’s request to quash a subpoena seeking information relating to plaintiff’s prior employer.

From the Order:

Plaintiff’s contention that the mere service of the challenged subpoena would cause her harm is conclusory and speculative. Plaintiff asserts, without more, that “she has continued to seek sales positions, including in the cable television industry.” See Exhibit B to Motion for a Temporary Injunction at 2, DE #25-2. However, plaintiff does not claim that she intends to apply for a job at Comcast in the foreseeable future, nor has she offered any specific facts to support her assumption that service of the subject subpoena would harm her job prospects. …

[I]n the instant case, defendants have sustained their burden of showing that the information sought via subpoena is relevant to the claims and defenses in this case. As a preliminary matter, unlike the cases cited by plaintiff, defendants are not seeking to conduct a fishing expedition in the hopes of uncovering some potentially damaging information against their former employee, such as a prior charge of discrimination: here, it is undisputed that plaintiff was at the center of a discrimination charge against her previous employer, the subpoenaed entity.  In fact, plaintiff’s own pleading affirmatively introduced into this lawsuit plaintiff’s complaints of harassment while employed at Comcast. See Compl. ¶¶ 14, 16, 33. Plaintiff resurrects those allegations in order to cast doubt on the motives of two Time Warner co-workers (and likely defense witnesses): one who previously worked with plaintiff at Comcast and who allegedly “bore a grudge” against her for having complained of a hostile work environment there, see id. ¶ 14; and another who is the brother of a harasser against whom she lodged a complaint at Comcast, see id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff should not now be heard to challenge defendants’ efforts to obtain discovery concerning the very allegations referenced in her complaint.3 *4

In any event, defendants have proffered information obtained from its employees, who were co-workers of plaintiff when she worked at Comcast, that plaintiff’s prior claims of harassment were “very similar to those at issue in this case ….” Def. Opp. at 1. While plaintiff disputes defendants’ version of what occurred at Time Warner, see 1/26/17 Pl. Letter at 2, she does not deny that her complaints of mistreatment by Comcast and its employees were similar to the claims of harassment lodged in this case. The Court thus has been “present[ed] [with] independent evidence that provides a reasonable basis for it to believe that [plaintiff] has filed complaints, grievances, lawsuits, or charges relating to her employment with” Comcast, thereby overcoming plaintiff’s professed concern that the subpoena is simply a “tool for harassment” that will impede her job search. See E.E.O.C. v. Princeton Healthcare Sys., No. CIV.A. 10-4126 (PGS), 2012 WL 1623870, at *22, *24 (D.N.J. May 9, 2012) (quoting Graham v. Casey’s Gen. Stores, 206 F.R.D. 251, 256 (S.D. Ind. 2002)).

Where, as here, a plaintiff has lodged similar complaints of discrimination with a previous employer, courts have held that information concerning those complaints is relevant to her pending claims of employment discrimination.

In reaching this conclusion, the court distinguished cases relied upon by plaintiff in which the courts disallowed discovery regarding the respective plaintiffs’ former employers.

Share This: