Class Action Defense Discovery Cases-Montoya v. S.C.C.P. Painting: Maryland Federal Court Holds Employer Bank Records Relevant But Discovery Concerning Immigration Status Irrelevant To Class Action Certification Issues

Apr 10, 2008 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Labor Law Class Action Plaintiffs Entitled to Redacted Bank Records of Putative Class Members because Defendant Lacked other Business Records Relevant to Class Action Numerosity and Commonality Requirements, and Class Action Defense Attorneys Entitled to Information Regarding Specific Terms of Plaintiffs’ Employment Agreements because Relevant to Typicality and Commonality but not Entitled to Information Concerning Immigration Status, Maryland Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a labor law class action against S.C.C.P. Painting alleging that it “failed to pay wages for all work performed, failed to pay wages for work directed to be performed but not accounted for on timesheets, failed to pay time and a half for hours worked greater than 40 hours, and deducted wages from paychecks, purportedly for tax withholding purposes but not in fact withheld for that purpose.” Montoya v. S.C.C.P. Painting Contractors, Inc., 530 F.Supp.2d 746, 747 (D.Md. 2008). The class action alleged violations of both state and federal law, and sought to proceed both as a class action under Rule 23 and as a collective action under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), id. As discovery limited to class action certification issues proceeded, disputes arose and each side filed motions to compel discovery. Id., at 747-48. Plaintiffs’ lawyer sought bank records; defense attorneys sought inter alia information concerning plaintiffs’ immigration status and concerning the specific employment agreements between the putative class representatives and defendant. The court granted the plaintiffs’ motion, and granted and denied the defense motion.

The district court first addressed plaintiffs’ request for bank records, which sought documents “reflecting wages paid to any employees.” Montoya, at 748. The court held that information sought was relevant to issues of numerosity and commonality, and that privacy concerns were resolved by plaintiffs’ agreement that the names of the employees may be redacted from the bank records. Id. The court noted that the records were necessary “in light of the absence of other business records,” and that according to defense attorneys “SCCP did not have any payroll records, no information submitted to tax authorities, no tax sheets or sign-in sheets, no personnel files and no documents showing the rates of pay for any person.” Id. Because the company did not have any information necessary to support a motion for class action certification, plaintiffs were entitled to obtain the bank records.

With respect to the defense request for the names and contact information of individuals “with discoverable information supporting plaintiffs’ case,” plaintiffs had provided names of “putative class members and other individuals, but did not give any addresses or telephone numbers.” Montoya, at 748. Plaintiffs argued that any contact with these individuals was barred prior to class certification; defense attorneys argued the contact information was necessary in order to “determine whether or not there are common issues of fact or questions of law, whether these individuals actually worked for the defendant, and to investigate the individuals to determine adequacy of the representation by named plaintiffs.” Id. The defense argued that plaintiffs would not be adequate representatives of the putative class if they were illegal aliens, id., at 748-49. The court disagreed, explaining that “the immigration status of plaintiffs [is] both irrelevant and prejudicial.” Id., at 749; see also id., at 749-50 and cases cited. Moreover, the district court explained at page 749, “While courts guarantee necessary discovery to allow a vigorous defense, courts are reluctant to order production of personal information disclosure of which might be seen as innocuous in an ordinary case, but threatening where immigration status is unclear.”

Similarly, the federal court rejected defense claims that they needed the social security numbers and driver’s license numbers of the named plaintiffs and of the putative class members, see Montoya, at 749, holding that this information was irrelevant, see id., at 749-50 (citation omitted). The court reasoned at page 750 that “the defendant can explore and challenge the class certification requirements of numerosity, typicality, commonality, and adequacy of representation, Rule 23(a), and predominance of common issues of law and fact, Rule 23(b)(2), without identifying information of named plaintiffs, putative class members, or potential witnesses.”

Defense attorneys also sought, however, “the specific terms of each putative class member’s [employment] agreement, the form of the agreement (oral or written), the date of the agreement, and the names of the persons involved in the negotiation of each agreement.” Montoya, at 751. The federal court held that this information – while relevant to the merits – was discoverable because it also was relevant as to issues concerning the typicality and commonality of the named plaintiffs’ claims; accordingly. it ordered that this information be produced. Id. The district court further ordered plaintiffs to produce additional information not discussed here, see id., at 751-52. Accordingly, the district court granted in part and denied in part the defense motion to compel. Id., at 752.

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