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Sanchez v. City of Fort Wayne

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

December 9, 2019

JULIE C. SANCHEZ, Plaintiff,


          Susan Collins United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court is a motion filed on October 30, 2019, by pro se Plaintiff seeking an order compelling Defendant to respond to her discovery requests pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37. (ECF 36). Defendant filed its response on November 13, 2019 (ECF 39), to which Plaintiff filed a reply on November 22, 2019 (ECF 41). The matter is thus ripe for ruling. For the following reasons the Court DENIES Plaintiff's motion in part and GRANTS it in part.

         A. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff, who is an African American woman, initiated this case on November 30, 2018, alleging that Defendant discriminated against her because of her race and gender. (ECF 1). The Court recognizes that there are disputes as to the facts giving rise to this action.[1] By way of background though, Plaintiff's discrimination and retaliation claims arose from her termination as Director of Citizen Service, responsible for the City of Fort Wayne's 311 call center. (ECF 20). More specifically, Plaintiff claims that while she was manager of the 311 call center, Defendant mishandled an internal investigation prompted by an anonymous employee complaint made to the City Legal Department in 2016. (Id.). Plaintiff additionally claims that she was subsequently subject to a hostile work environment, treated differently than similarly situated white managers, and after additional employee complaints, improperly terminated in August 2017. (Id.).

         In terms of the present discovery dispute, Plaintiff identifies four separate categories of proposed discovery which she seeks to compel.[2] First, Plaintiff requests production of “[a] copy of any and all discriminatory complaints based upon race, complaints of harassment, and any complaints of unfair mistreatment made against” Kurt Roberts, Maggie Fiedler, Kelly Lumberg, and Brad Baumgartner. (ECF 27 at 8; ECF 28 at 2; ECF 36 at 2). Second, Plaintiff, by way of an interrogatory, requests statistical data showing “the number of Whites, African Americans, and nonblacks and/ non whites [sic] working at the City of Fort Wayne in the following years: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017.” (ECF 31 at 2; ECF 36 at 3). Finally, Plaintiff requests “metadata from ten days before and ten days after (and including) July 26, 2017” from a copier located in the call center (ECF 29 at 2) and “[a] copy of the City's July 26, 2017 phone log with its subsequent recorded calls” made by Plaintiff and various city employees involved in Plaintiff's termination (ECF 30 at 2). (ECF 36 at 3). Defendant in response argues that: (1) the requested documents regarding complaints against other managers are irrelevant, or at least the requests are overbroad; (2) the request regarding statistical data is irrelevant; and (3) no material responsive to the copier and phone records requests still exists. (ECF 39).

         B. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) permits discovery of “any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case . . . .” A party may file a motion to compel under Rule 37 when the responding party is evasive or provides incomplete disclosures or answers. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(1). The Court has “broad discretion in matters relating to discovery.” Patterson v. Avery Dennison Corp., 281 F.3d 676, 681 (7th Cir. 2002).

         Relevance for purposes of discovery is construed broadly as “any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matters that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case.” Chavez v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 206 F.R.D. 615, 619 (S.D. Ind. 2002). Moreover there “is a strong public policy in favor of disclosure of relevant materials . . . .” Patterson, 281 F.3d at 681 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)). However, “relevance alone does not translate into automatic discoverability . . . . [a]n assessment of proportionality is essential.” Motorola Sols., Inc. v. Hytera Commc'ns Corp., 365 F.Supp.3d 916, 924 (N.D. Ill. 2019). Rule 26(b)(1) instructs the Court to determine proportionality, “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.”

         The moving party generally bears the burden of proving that the discovery it is seeking is relevant to the case and proportional to the needs of the party. See Motorola, 365 F.Supp. at 924 n.6; United States v. Lake Cty. Bd. of Comm'rs, No. 2:04 CV 415, 2006 WL 978882, at *1 (N.D. Ind. Apr. 7, 2006) (citations omitted). “The party opposing discovery has the burden of proving that the requested discovery should be disallowed.” Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of Illinois v. Micron Tech., Inc., No. 2:11-cv-02288-SLD-JEH, 2016 WL 4132182, at *3 (C.D. Ill. Aug. 3, 2016) (collecting cases). In ruling on a motion to compel, the Court considers the relevance of the discovery subject to the motion, and whether ordering the disclosure of the requested material would cause undue burden to the opposing party under Rule 26(b)(2)(B) or be otherwise disproportionate under Rule 26(b)(1). See, e.g., Motorola, 365 F.Supp. at 924; Nucap Indus. Inc. v. Robert Bosch LLC, No. 15 CV 2207, 2017 WL 6059770, at *2 (N.D. Ill.Dec. 7, 2017) (citing Patterson, 281 F.3d at 681); Berning v. UAW Local 209, 242 F.R.D. 510, 514 (N.D. Ind. 2007).

         C. Analysis

         1. Complaints Against Other City Employees

         As to Plaintiff's request for copies of “any and all discriminatory complaints” made against Kurt Roberts, Maggie Fiedler, Kelly Lumberg, and Brad Baumgartner, Defendant contends that such requests are overbroad as to subject matter and time. (ECF 39 at 6-8). Regarding subject matter, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's request “could encompass an infinite range of complaints from trivial to serious that may have nothing to do with the discriminatory conduct [Plaintiff's] employees raised.” (Id. at 7). As such, Defendant contends that Plaintiff's request “represents a fishing expedition designed to capture a far wider variety of complaints [than those raised against Plaintiff, ] that would make a meaningful comparison to the facts of her case impossible.” (Id. (citing Johnson v. Jung, Nos. 02 C 5221, 04 C 6158, 2007 WL 1752608, at *1 (N.D. Ill. June 14, 2007))). Plaintiff, in her reply, contends the requested information would show that Defendant treated her more harshly than similarly situated white managers who had employee complaints raised against them. (ECF 41 at 5-6).

         As an initial matter, Defendant's reliance on Johnson is misplaced. The plaintiff there- claiming she was discriminated against on the basis of her race, ethnicity, and natural origin- requested that the defendant “identify all internal and external (EEOC's) complaints but not limited to sexual harassment.” 2007 WL 1752608, at *1. While not clear from the opinion, the plaintiff there appears to have been seeking evidence of other complaints to show a pattern of discrimination by the defendant. See Id. (citing Davis v. Precoat Metals, No. 01 C 5689, 2002 WL 1759828 (N.D. Ill. July 29, 2002) (granting a motion to compel discovery into discrimination complaints made by employees similarly situated to the plaintiffs and on the same grounds as those raised by the plaintiff)).

         The documents sought here, though, are not meant to show that Defendant treated Plaintiff similarly to other female or African American employees; but to show that she was treated differently than white employees in similar circumstances. Plaintiff's argument is essentially that the employee complaints raised against her were a pretext. The true reasons for her treatment and eventual termination, she argues, were her race and gender. (ECF 41 at 6 (“Receiving examples of those complaints will further prove that the Plaintiff was treated unfairly, and ultimately terminated, solely because she was an African American female.”); see also ECF 20 at 4). In such cases, evidence of the treatment of similarly situated employees is relevant to a Title VII claim. See Coleman v. Donahoe, 667 F.3d 835, 853 (7th Cir. 2012) ...

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