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Mathews v. Corning Inc.

November 6, 2009

SUZANNE MATTHEWS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CORNING INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marian W. Payson United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION & ORDER

Suzanne Matthews ("Matthews") has filed a complaint pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., alleging that defendant Corning Inc. ("Corning") discriminated against her on the basis of her gender, subjected her to a hostile work environment and retaliated against her. (Docket # 50). Matthews alleges, inter alia, that she was denied management opportunities because of her sex (Docket # 50 at ¶¶ 37-40, 55-56, 104-106); she was given additional work responsibilities because she is female (id. at ¶¶ 42-45); and, in retaliation for complaining about her treatment, she was unfairly blamed for a defective work product (id. at ¶¶ 75, 83-87).

Currently before this Court is Matthews's motion to compel responses from Corning to two separate requests for production of documents. (Docket # 32). Corning has cross-moved for a protective order. (Docket # 35). Oral argument was held on the matter on October 13, 2009 (Docket # 49), after which the parties submitted supplemental memoranda.

DISCUSSION

The threshold requirement of discoverability under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is whether the information sought is "relevant to any party's claim or defense."

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). To be discoverable, the information "need not be admissible at the trial if the information sought appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Id. The relevance standard is thus commonly recognized as one that is necessarily broad in scope in order "to encompass any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case." Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978) (citation omitted). See Daval Steel Prods., a Div. of Francosteel Corp. v. M/V Fakredine, 951 F.2d 1357, 1367 (2d Cir. 1991) (parties entitled to discovery of any matter that appears "reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence"); Morse/Diesel, Inc. v. Fidelity and Deposit Co. of Maryland, 122 F.R.D. 447, 449 (S.D.N.Y. 1988) (term "reasonably calculated" in Rule 26(b)(1) means "any possibility that the information sought may be relevant" to a party's claim or defense) (internal quotations omitted).

Matthews's document requests are broad in subject matter, ranging from proper requests for documents relating to Corning's internal investigation of her claims to seemingly irrelevant requests for emails regarding extramarital affairs and personal lives of other employees. (Docket # 32). Corning alleges that it has produced over seven hundred pages of responsive documents and that the remainder of Matthews's requests are irrelevant or overbroad. (Docket # 39 at ¶ 5).

Having reviewed the parties' submissions, I conclude that both motions should be granted in part and denied in part. This Court finds that, with few exceptions, Corning has responded to the vast majority of Matthews's proper requests. For example, Corning has provided Matthews with a complete copy of her personnel file and her performance evaluations, documents related to Corning's internal investigation of Matthews's claims of discrimination, relevant emails, and relevant Corning policies and procedures. (Docket # 39 at ¶ 5). Those requests as to which Corning's responses are potentially deficient are addressed below.

I. Complaints by Burt and Delaney

At oral argument, Matthews represented that she was aware that two Corning employees, Rebecca Burt and Diana Delaney, had complained of discrimination by some of Matthews's alleged harassers, but that Corning had not produced any documents reflecting such complaints. (See Docket # 37 at 2, 5, 6, 7 (Request Nos. 2, 4, 5, 6, 7)). Evidence of similar complaints of discrimination against other employees by the same alleged perpetrators is relevant to Matthews's claims and is discoverable. Lieberman v. Gant, 630 F.2d 60, 68 (2d Cir. 1980) ("[e]vidence of general patterns of discrimination by an employer is relevant even in an individual disparate treatment case"); Louison v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Greater New York, 1990 WL 108347, *1 (S.D.N.Y. 1990) (plaintiff's document requests seeking information regarding other complaints of discrimination were relevant); Flanagan v. Travelers Ins. Co., 111 F.R.D. 42, 48 (W.D.N.Y. 1986) (same). For this reason, at oral argument this Court instructed Corning to search again for documents referencing complaints by Burt or Delaney.

By letter dated October 23, 2009, Corning advised that its search did not uncover any "written complaints" made by either Burt or Delaney. (See Corning letter dated October 23, 2009). In response, Matthews has provided a copy of an email which references a complaint by Delaney. (See Matthews letter dated October 26, 2009). On this record, although no basis exists to question Corning's representation that it has no record of written complaints by Burt or Delaney, it may have documents referencing or relating to verbal complaints by them. If so, they must be produced. Accordingly, Corning is directed to search for documents reflecting or concerning any verbal complaints of gender discrimination by Burt or Delaney. Any responsive documents shall be produced by no later than November 30, 2009.

II. Email from Cites to Terry

At oral argument, Matthews explained her belief that Corning has failed to turn over a relevant email sent by one of her supervisors, Jeffrey Cites, to another of her supervisors, Johnny Terry. (See Docket # 37 at 3-4 (Request No. 3)). Specifically, Matthews claims that Terry told her about an email sent by Cites in early November 2006 stating that Matthews had improperly resigned from her job. Counsel for Corning represented that Corning had searched unsuccessfully for the email and that both Cites and Terry has testified at their depositions that no such email had ever existed. Counsel for Corning is directed to confer with Ronald Brought, Corning's representative responsible for searching its electronic databases, and ...


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