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Szany v. Garcia

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

March 5, 2019

DENISE SZANY, Plaintiff,



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Hammond's Second Motion for Protective Order Regarding Questioning During Depositions [DE 137], filed on February 11, 2019. Plaintiff filed a response on February 12, 2019, and Defendant Hammond filed a reply on February 19, 2019.

         At a telephonic status hearing held on February 6, 2019, the parties indicated that a deposition will be taken on March 11, 2019. The parties stated that they anticipated disagreement regarding how the Court's previous orders would apply to questions posed at the deposition. The Court scheduled a telephonic hearing for March 7, 2019, and set a deadline of February 11, 2019, for the parties to file motions-falling within a specific, limited scope-that the Court would consider taking up at the hearing.

         In the Motion for Protective Order[1], Defendant Hammond asks for a protective order (1) affirming the Court's prior definitions of relevance and proportionality, (2) forbidding questioning into matters contained in Defendant Garcia's internal affairs file related to the document bearing Bates numbers 364-65 (“Document 364-65”), and (3) forbidding questioning into off-duty conduct outside of the workplace between Hammond Police Department officers other than Plaintiff and Defendant Garcia.

         As an initial matter, Plaintiff argues that the Motion for Protective Order does not comply with Northern District of Indiana Local Rule 37-1. The Local Rule provides that a motion may- not must-be denied for failure to comply. Without deciding whether Defendant Hammond's certification at docket entry 139 complies with the rule, the Court declines to deny the motion on the procedural ground and proceeds to rule on the motion on the merits, which is consistent with the relief requested in Plaintiff's response.

         In general,

[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). The Court has the authority to issue protective orders under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 “to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1). The court has discretion in deciding when a protective order is appropriate and what degree of protection is required, and the party seeking the protective order has the burden of showing that good cause exists for it. Felling v. Knight, 211 F.R.D. 552, 554 (S.D. Ind. 2003).

         In her Fifth Amended Complaint, Plaintiff brings, among other claims, a Title VII claim against Defendant Hammond under theories of sexual harassment and hostile work environment. To succeed on the theory of hostile work environment, Plaintiff will need to show some basis for employer liability. Vance v. Ball State Univ., 646 F.3d 461, 469 (7th Cir. 2011). If, as appears to be the case here, the claim is that Plaintiff was harassed by a coworker and not a supervisor, “the plaintiff must show that the employer has ‘been negligent either in discovering or remedying the harassment.'” Id. at 470 (quoting Williams v. Waste Mgmt. of Illinois, 361 F.3d 1021, 1029 (7th Cir. 2004)).

         On December 4, 2018, the Court ordered:

Documents and information in the internal affairs file pertaining to any of the following are relevant and proportional to the needs of the case: complaints against or investigations of Garcia for sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, or sexually-motivated violence toward any person; complaints against or investigations of Garcia for violence toward coworkers; and complaints against or investigations of Garcia for any matter complained by Szany.

(Op. & Order 3-4, ECF No. 96). Defendant Hammond first asks the Court to order that this determination of relevance and proportionality regarding Defendant Garcia's internal affairs file applies to other aspects of discovery, including depositions.

         Plaintiff correctly identifies that the Court's previous ruling was narrow and applied only to the internal affairs file. The ruling should not be used to define the full scope of all discovery in this case. For example, the issue of the relevance and proportionality of alleged behavior by anyone other than Defendant Garcia was not before the Court when it made the earlier finding. However, Plaintiff has provided no rationale that would call for deviation from the reasoning behind this ruling for discovery conducted outside of the internal affairs file. Thus, the reasoning behind the Court's previous ruling is sound and applies to all discovery conducted in this case.

         In applying that reasoning to the current disputes, the Court finds that conduct-or allegations of conduct-that can contribute to sexual harassment claims or defenses thereto are relevant. However, not all allegations of misconduct by Hammond Police Department employees fall into this finding. By way of a hypothetical, assume a police officer assaulted a patron at a restaurant. Assume another police officer used excessive force in making an arrest. These actions ...

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