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Hnot v. Willis Group Holdings Ltd.

August 17, 2006

SHELLEY HNOT AND HEIDI SCHELLER, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL SIMILARLY SITUATED PERSONS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
WILLIS GROUP HOLDINGS LTD., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gerard E. Lynch, District Judge.

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs move to modify the class certification order, to amend the deadline for non-expert discovery, and to compel additional discovery. The motion will be denied.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Shelly Hnot and Heidi Scheller ("plaintiffs"), representatives of a certified class of high-level female employees at Willis Group Holdings Ltd. and affiliated entities ("defendants" or "Willis"), brought suit in 2001, alleging illegal employment discrimination on the basis of sex. Details of the dispute can be found in numerous prior decisions of the Court. See Hnot v. Willis Group Holdings Ltd., 228 F.R.D. 476 (S.D.N.Y. 2005); see also Hnot v. Willis Group Holdings Ltd., 01 Civ. 6558 (GEL), 2006 WL 2079326 (S.D.N.Y. July 24, 2006); Hnot v. Willis Group Holdings Ltd., 01 Civ. 6558 (GEL), 2005 WL 831665 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 8, 2005); Hnot v. Willis Group Holdings Ltd., 01 Civ. 6558 (GEL), 2005 WL 831664 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 8, 2005); Hnot v. Willis Group Holding Ltd., 01 Civ. 6558 (GEL), 2004 WL 1794493 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 10, 2004). The present Opinion recites only certain details relating to discovery and class certification which are material to the instant motion.

I. Discovery Deadlines

On August 2, 2002, the Court held an off-the-record conference to discuss certain discovery issues, including the geographic scope of discovery. The details of the conference are disputed. According to plaintiffs, the Court resolved a discovery dispute regarding plaintiffs' access to defendants' computerized employee database by ordering defendants to provide access to the records through December 31, 2001. Plaintiffs further contend that the Court directed plaintiffs not to pursue discovery of post-2001 computer database information until the Court ruled on plaintiffs' motion for class certification. (P. Mot. to Modify Class Cert. Order ("P. Mem.") at 3; P. Reply in Support of Mot. to Modify Class Cert. Order ("P. Reply") at 5; Webber Decl. in Support of P. Mem. ¶ 2; Lee Decl. in Support of P. Mem. ¶ 3.) In contrast, defendants assert that the parties had already reached an agreement at the time of the conference that discovery of database information would not extend beyond 2001, and that the Court issued no ruling on the matter. (D. Mem. at 7.) As discussed in more detail infra, the Court does not accept either account in its entirety. Regardless of whose recollection is correct, however, it is beyond question that a case management plan signed by the parties and endorsed by the Court more than two months after the August conference set September 30, 2003, as the date by which "all non-expert discovery" would be completed.*fn1 (11/22/02 Case Management Plan ¶ 4.) The Order further provided that the discovery deadline could be reconsidered by the Court at a subsequent conference to be held on September 26, 2003.

The conference originally scheduled for September 26, 2003, took place on October 31, 2003. At that time, the Court set a briefing schedule for plaintiffs' motion to expand the geographic scope of discovery to encompass a nationwide computer database. The Court also approved the parties' Revised Case Management Plan ("RCMP"), signed by counsel for both sides, which extended the deadline for the completion of "all non-expert discovery" to February 28, 2004. The only discovery authorized by the RCMP to take place after the February 2004 deadline was expert discovery, a limited number of depositions in connection with plaintiffs' motion for class certification, and additional depositions, to the extent permitted by the Court, following a ruling on class certification. Expressing concern about the slow pace of the case, the Court emphasized that unless plaintiffs' motion to compel discovery of a nationwide database was granted, the discovery deadlines established by the RCMP would be final, and that the parties should not expect any further extension.

The Court denied plaintiffs' motion to compel nationwide database discovery at a conference held on the record on January 9, 2004.*fn2 After the Court rendered its ruling, a discussion ensued regarding open discovery and scheduling issues. It is clear from the transcript that both the parties and the Court understood that the February 2004 deadline for completion of non-expert discovery remained in place (see 1/9/04 Tr. at 9:21-22, 10:23 to 12:17, 13:3-7, 15:2 to 16:16, 17:14-23, 18:4-7, 24:10-25), with only limited exceptions discussed at that conference and/or specifically contemplated by the RCMP.*fn3

II. Class Certification

On June 14, 2004, plaintiffs moved to certify a class consisting of "all current and former female employees who have been employed by the defendants in positions eligible for the award of officer titles such as Assistant Vice President, Vice President and Senior Vice President at any time from October 30, 1998 through the present." (P. Mem. in Support of Class Cert. at 2.) Though the plaintiffs thus apparently sought certification of a class of employees employed by defendants through the date of the motion's submission, the Court mistakenly interpreted plaintiffs' proposed class as including only employees who worked for defendants from 1998 through 2001, and certified the class accordingly. See Hnot, 228 F.R.D. at 480, 486-87. The misunderstanding resulted from the fact that the evidence presented by plaintiffs to support certification did not extend beyond that time period. (See P. Reply Mem. at 2 (conceding that "the data analysis Plaintiffs relied upon in support of their motion [for class certification] did not extend past 2001").) As a result of the Court's narrow interpretation of the proposed class, the certification order did not address whether a broader class could or should be certified based on the data submitted with plaintiffs' original class certification motion.

At the first case management conference held after the Court certified the class, plaintiffs' counsel raised the issue of the class's temporal scope, noting that the Court had certified a narrower class than that proposed in plaintiffs' motion. The Court directed the parties to attempt an amicable resolution of the issue as part of a settlement conference to take place before Magistrate Judge Freeman. When settlement failed, the Court endorsed a proposed briefing schedule to resolve the disagreement regarding the class period.

The parties having now fully briefed the issue, it is clear that what plaintiffs actually seek is not merely a modification of the Court's certification order to extend the class period, but also a modification of the RCMP's discovery deadline and a corresponding order compelling additional discovery. The new discovery would consist primarily of access to information in defendants' computer database from 2002 to at least the end of 2005. (See P. Mem. at 9-10.) Plaintiffs also move to extend the class period to include any employees who have worked for defendants from 1998 through the date of trial (id.); the proposed extension thus goes significantly beyond what plaintiffs requested in their original June 14, 2004, class certification motion, which proposed a class period extending only to the date of that motion's submission.*fn4 Defendants oppose plaintiffs' motion in all respects.

DISCUSSION

I. Motion to Amend the RCMP and Compel ...


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