This week, the Retail Litigation Center (RLC), along with the California Retailers Association (CRA) and the California Grocers Association (CGA), jointly filed an amici brief with the California Supreme Court seeking clarification of the rules governing the scope of discovery under California's Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA). PAGA grants an employee a right of action against an employer on behalf of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) for violations of the state labor code.
The brief was filed in Michael Williams v. Superior Court of California for the County of Los Angeles, in which Williams, an employee of Marshalls, alleged that the company committed labor violations. Williams sought contact information for all employees in every store that the retailer operated in the state even though he had not yet established that he had suffered an injury. The trial court recognized that the broad discovery that Williams sought -- before he had even established that he was an "aggrieved employee" in a position to bring the challenge on behalf of every employee in the state -- was premature. As a result, the trial court balanced the interests of the parties and permitted Williams to obtain discovery on employees in the same store, but denied his attempt to obtain information on the rest of the employees in the state. The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court's original discovery order, citing privacy concerns of non-litigant employees. The case is now before the California Supreme Court.
Retailers believe that trial courts should have the discretion to manage, sequence, or limit the scope of discovery.
"If the plaintiffs have their way, discovery in PAGA litigation would be overly intrusive, costly, and burdensome for employees and employers alike, particularly given the number of store locations, employees, and positions each company represents within the state," said Deborah White, president of the RLC. "The California Supreme Court should uphold its trial court's decision to sequence discovery in a way that will promote resolution of the issue without undue burden or intrusion into the privacy of employees."
According to the brief:
"The trial court's order sequencing discovery is consistent with and logically flows … because it would be unduly burdensome, expensive, and intrusive to require Marshalls (and also the trial court) to expend significant time and resources on representative discovery related to thousands of other employees if Williams is unable to show that the Labor Code violations he alleges he suffered have at least some factual merit."
The brief, drafted by Call & Jensen's Jamin Soderstrom and Delavan Dickson, can be read here.
The Retail Litigation Center is a public policy organization that identifies and engages in legal proceedings that affect the retail industry. The RLC, whose members include some of the country's largest retailers, was formed to provide courts with retail industry perspectives on significant legal issues, and highlight the potential industry-wide consequences of legal principles that may be determined in pending cases.