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Chawla v. Metropolitan Oral Surgery Associates, P.C.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

September 19, 2014

SUCHIE CHAWLA, Plaintiff,
v.
METROPOLITAN ORAL SURGERY ASSOCIATES, P.C., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

VERA M. SCANLON, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Suchie Chawla ("Plaintiff" or "Dr. Chawla") brings this action against Defendant Metropolitan Oral Surgery Associates, P.C. ("Defendant" or "MOSA") under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 296 et seq.; and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107, et seq.; among other laws. Docket No. 1. Plaintiff, who is female, alleges that MOSA hired her as an associate oral and maxillofacial surgeon in October 2009; that she was the only female doctor on MOSA's staff; and that MOSA subjected Plaintiff to a series of adverse employment actions because of her sex. Id. ¶¶ 11-15. Among the adverse employment actions alleged in Plaintiff's complaint are MOSA's reduction of her wages in 2010, and MOSA's termination of her employment in 2011. Id. ¶¶ 15, 19-20.

On September 26, 2013, the Court issued an Order stating that Defendant's counsel Rosalind Fink could depose Dr. Chawla "for up to three days. If all relevant topics are exhausted by the close of the second day of testimony (14 hours), Plaintiff may apply to the Court to conclude the deposition." Docket Entry 9/26/2013. On October 3, 2013, Ms. Fink was in the midst of deposing Dr. Chawla. At the seven-hour mark of the deposition, which occurred at around 2:36 p.m., [1] Dr. Chawla's attorney Saul Zabell stopped the deposition and walked out of the deposition with his client. Docket No. 69. Before this Court is Ms. Fink's motion that sanctions be levied against Mr. Zabell for this conduct. Id. Mr. Zabell opposes. Docket No. 71. Ms. Fink and Mr. Zabell have also filed papers relating to the amount of requested fees and costs. Docket Nos. 111, 113, 115.

For the following reasons, I grant in part and deny in part Defendant's motion for sanctions. I order Mr. Zabell to pay Ms. Fink (1) $3, 353.75 in reasonable attorney's and paralegal's fees in bringing this motion and (2) $531.36 in costs incurred in bringing this motion and continuing the deposition. I do not award Defendant a punitive monetary sanction on top of this damages award.

I. Background

a. The September 26 Order That Ms. Fink Had Three Days To Take Dr. Chawla's Deposition, And Mr. Zabell's Refusal To Continue The Deposition

The Court assumes the Parties' familiarity with the facts bearing on the substance of this action. See, e.g. Docket No. 95 (briefly summarizing the Parties' positions). Accordingly, this summary focuses on the procedural background of the instant sanctions motion. Docket No. 69.

On August 22, 2013, Ms. Fink gave notice to Mr. Zabell that she intended to videorecord her deposition of Dr. Chawla the next day. On August 23, 2013, Ms. Fink began her deposition of Dr. Chawla, but did not get far, as Counsel disagreed as to whether Ms. Fink could videorecord it; Counsel called the Court for a ruling. Docket Entry 8/23/2013. I issued the following Order:

Plaintiff's deposition may be videotaped... (1) Plaintiff and her counsel had notice of the deposition for many weeks. The substance of a videotaped deposition is no different from that of a transcribed deposition. There is no prejudice to Plaintiff with regard to preparation.... In the 21st century, it is not unusual, and should not be unexpected, that a deposition will be preserved by the manual typing of a court reporter, and/or by audio and video recording technology.

Id. Mr. Zabell made a reconsideration motion, which I denied. Id. Mr. Zabell appealed my Order to the District Judge. Docket No. 63. The District Judge affirmed my Order and denied Mr. Zabell's request for a protective order over the recorded proceeding. Docket No. 8/23/2013.

As a result of the dispute, Dr. Chawla's deposition was put off to another day. Before that day arrived, I held another telephone conference with Counsel to discuss discovery. Docket No. 68. Among these issues was the length of time Ms. Fink could have to depose Dr. Chawla. Mr. Zabell told the Court that, as Ms. Fink had already deposed Dr. Chawla for "about four and a half hours, " he "would probably be willing to give [Ms. Fink] another hour or two." Docket No. 68 at 36:3-6. The following conversation ensued:

THE COURT:
[Dr. Chawla is] the plaintiff. This is going to be a complete deposition. If it takes three days[, ] it takes three days.
MR. ZABELL:
I'm sorry, Judge, but it's my understanding [that] unless there's another ruling and I don't think the application has been made[, then Ms. Fink] is entitled to take seven hours of deposition.
THE COURT:
Ms. Fink said she thought that it would take three days. I think that's reasonable in light of... how important Dr. Chawla's testimony is. If Ms. Fink can do it more efficiently that would be great but...
MR. ZABELL:
Are you telling me, Your Honor, that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governing the length of the deposition do not apply here?
THE COURT:
No. I'm saying Ms. Fink said she thought it would take three days. That's an application for [three days]. I'm saying if it takes three days[, ] it takes three days.
MR. ZABELL:
If that's an actual application I'd like... the opportunity to submit opposition to that.
THE COURT:
Tell me right now what your opposition is.
MR. ZABELL:
Well, it's hard for me to determine what my opposition is until the actual ...

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