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Federal Bar Update: Pilot program for discovery in employment cases

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FedBarMaley-sigIn the Southern District of Indiana, if you are litigating an adverse-action employment case you might be part of a pilot program that aims to streamline and tailor discovery and scheduling. You will know this upon receipt of an early order in the case indicating that your case is in the pilot program. The nine-page order then sets forth detailed instructions, definitions, instructions and deadlines.

The pilot program is an initiative of the Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and is being utilized in various courts across the country. (The Northern District of Ohio, for instance, is participating.) Highlights of the pilot program order include the following:

First, the order sets forth Initial Discovery Protocols that supersede Rule 26(a)(1) disclosures. Second, the order sets the relevant time period for discovery as beginning three years before the date of the adverse action unless otherwise specified. Third, the order provides that electronically stored information shall be produced in searchable .pdf format with native format versions of ESI to be preserved for possible production for good cause shown. Fourth, the unintentional production of a privileged or work-product document does not constitute waiver.

Fifth, the order has an expedited schedule, starting with plaintiff providing its initial mandatory discovery production due within 30 days of the answer or responsive motion. Plaintiff must produce a listing of 10 items, ranging from claims, charges and unemployment documents to mitigation-related documents and documents concerning the termination of any subsequent employment. Plaintiffs must also list witnesses, categories of damages and whether any disability benefits have been applied for.

Defendants, meanwhile, must also produce documents and information 30 days after the answer or motion to dismiss. Required information is set forth in a 14-point list and includes the plaintiff’s personnel file, policies in effect relevant to the adverse action, relevant job descriptions, compensation and benefit documents, non-privileged investigative documents, and a listing of plaintiff’s supervisors and managers, and decision-makers.

Next, the order has a self-contained “Interim Protective Order” that provides for confidentiality designations and protections and fairly standard procedures. It does not address attorney’s-eyes-only requests and designations, but does state that parties may apply for any further protective order or modification.

Supreme Court decision on class actions

In Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Knowles, the Supreme Court of the United States recently ruled that class-action plaintiffs cannot evade removal to federal court by stipulating, pre-certification, that they seek damages less than the jurisdictional threshold required for removal. Knowles stipulated in his complaint that “Plaintiff and the Class . . . will seek to recover total aggregate damages of less than five million dollars.” By so stipulating, Knowles sought to evade the jurisdictional minimum of $5 million set forth in the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005.

He was initially successful, as after removal the court remanded the case because of the stipulation and in spite of its finding that the amount in controversy would have exceeded the jurisdictional minimum otherwise. In its unanimous decision, the Supreme Court found that Knowles’ stipulation was not binding on the class he purported to represent, as he could not legally bind members of a proposed class prior to that class being certified. Although the court agreed that an individual could limit the amount in controversy as to himself, that plaintiff could not “resolve the amount-in controversy question [by stipulation] in light of his inability to bind the rest of the class.”

7th Circuit Conference

The 7th Circuit Conference is in Indianapolis this year, from May 5-7. Excellent CLE programs and dinner programs are featured. Register online at 7thcircuitbar.org.•

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John Maley – jmaley@btlaw.com – is a partner with Barnes & Thornburg, LLP, practicing federal and state litigation, employment matters, and appeals. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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