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California Supreme Court Expands Discovery Rights in PAGA Actions

Kennaday Leavitt Owensby, PC

In Williams v. Superior Court (Marshalls), the California Supreme Court allowed state-wide discovery of Marshalls’ employees’ contact information, without the representative plaintiff first having to make any showing that his individual claims had merit or that there was a company-wide policy or practice that violated the law.

In Williams, a Marshalls employee brought an action under PAGA for meal and rest break violations, among other claims. Early in discovery, plaintiff sought the contact information of approximately 16,500 Marshalls workers across California. The lower courts denied the plaintiff’s request for employee contact information outside his own store until after he had given “six productive hours of deposition” on his own claims.

The Supreme Court overruled the Court of Appeal. First, it held that “[i]n pursuing such [representative] discovery, the strength or weakness of the plaintiff’s individual claim is immaterial.” Second, the Court held that state-wide discovery was proper even absent any company-wide or uniform policy, as “[a] uniform policy may be a convenient and desirable way to show commonality of interest in a case where class certification is sought, but it is not a condition for discovery, or even success, in a PAGA action….”

Addressing Marshalls’ objections to plaintiff’s discovery requests on the grounds of undue burden and overbreadth, the Supreme Court held that the plaintiff’s right to discovery is broad and that, absent claims of privilege or significant evidence of undue burden, his right to discovery extends to all information which is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Finally, addressing the privacy rights of other employees with respect to their contact information, the Court held that allowing discovery would not be a “serious privacy invasion.” In so ruling, the Court expressly disapproved of numerous California cases which held that a “compelling interest” is required to overcome privacy rights.

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