Cal. Supremes Affirm Discovery Rights to PAGA Plaintiffs

In Williams v. Superior Court, Cal. Ct. App. Case No. S227228 (7/13/2017), the California Supreme Court held that a plaintiff in a claim under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) may conduct discovery regarding the identities of other aggrieved employees to the same extent as in a class action. Further, a trial court cannot require a plaintiff to make a prima facie case as a condition of compelling the defendant to disclose employee contact information.

Briefly, Michael Williams worked for a Marshalls department store, and claimed that Marshalls failed to provide compliant meal and rest periods under California law, including because company policy resulted in stores being understaffed and managers had the authority to revise employee time records to eliminate meal break violatoins. statements.

After the case was filed, Williams sought the personal contact information of all California hourly employees during the statutory period. The trial court conditioned the disclosure of contact information on Plaintiff making a “threshold showing” of merit after having his deposition taken. The Court of Appeal rejected Williams’ writ petition. The California Supreme Court granted review.

At the outset, the Court noted that “Williams was presumptively entitled to an answer to his interrogatory seeking the identity and contact information of his fellow Marshalls employees.”
In reviewing Marshall’s objection that the request was overbroad, the Court explained that because the objection did not involve privilege, the question of discoverability depended on whether the request was “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence,” i.e., within the scope of discovery.

Second, the Court found that the interrogatory was not unduly burdensome, and even if there is some burden, the trial court should consider alternatives less than completely barring discovery to address that burden. But the Court found that simply providing contact information is not unduly burdensome, although seeking detailed payroll and timekeeping documentation may give rise to such an objection.

Finally, the Court held that there was no sufficient privacy interest in the identities of the aggrieved employees to preclude production and that it was too high of a threshold to require a “compelling need” to produce such information.