United States District Court, W.D. New York
KELLEY M. PATTON, Plaintiff,
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant.
HUGH B. SCOTT, Magistrate Judge.
Before the Court are (a) plaintiff's motion to extend the discovery deadline (Docket No. 22) and (b) defendant's counter-motion for a protective Order (Docket No. 26; see Docket No. 25). Responses to plaintiff's motion initially were due April 7, 2015, and any reply was due April 14, 2015 (Docket No. 23), and that motion was deemed submitted on April 14, 2015. The current discovery deadline (Docket No. 20) was March 20, 2015, and it was held in abeyance pending resolution of this motion. With the defense motion, responses were extended for both motions to May 1, 2015, replies were due by May 8, 2015, and dispositive motions also were held in abeyance pending resolution of these motions (Docket No. 27). Defendant's initial motion (Docket No. 25) was terminated upon the filing of the Amended Notice of Motion (Docket Nos. 27, 26).
This is a Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 207, et seq., action for discrimination on the basis of pay (Docket No. 1, Compl.). The first cause of action alleges that defendant failed to pay overtime wages to plaintiff, in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 207, claiming that she had nonexempt job duties (id. ¶¶ 86-89, 87), while the second cause of action alleges violation of (unspecified provision of) New York Labor Law and the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, for failure to pay overtime wages (id. ¶¶ 91-94). Plaintiff also alleges claims of retaliation in violation of New York Labor Law § 215; pay discrimination, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and failure to promote, in violation of § 1981 (id. ¶¶ 95-96, 97-100, 101-05). Defendant answered (Docket No. 5), and this Court entered (Docket No. 17) and later amended (Docket No. 20) the Scheduling Order on stipulation (Docket No. 19).
Plaintiff's Motion to Extend Deadline
During a deposition, plaintiff learned of a defense employee, Felicia Fields, who knew of defendant's policies regarding exempt and non-exempt employees and how employees are thus classified (Docket No. 22, Pl. Memo. at 1-2; Docket No. 22, Pl. Atty. Decl. ¶ 4). Ms. Fields is defendant's group vice president for human resources and corporate services (Docket No. 26, Fields Decl. ¶ 2). Plaintiff argues that exempt status is material to her first and second causes of action (Docket No. 22, Pl. Atty. Decl. ¶ 5). Plaintiff thus seeks a sixty-day extension of the discovery deadline to complete discovery regarding the exempt status (id. ¶¶ 3, 7), but defendant refused to consent to extension of the discovery deadline (id. ¶ 7).
Defendant counters that plaintiff was aware of her classification as an exempt or nonexempt employee since commencing this action (Docket No. 26, Def. Atty. Decl. ¶ 3, citing Docket No. 1, Compl. at page 13 of 19), contending that plaintiff filed this action alleging that her HR Associate - Labor position was misclassified under the Fair Labor Standards Act as an exempt position and thus wrongly denied overtime pay (Docket No. 26, Def. Memo. at 2-3). Defendant argues that plaintiff's motion should be denied because she seeks this relief at the last day of discovery (see id. at 3-4). Defendant concludes that plaintiff lacks good cause under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b)(4) for extension of the discovery deadline (id. at 2, 6-8). Defendant argues that Fields has no personal knowledge of plaintiff's claims or has unique knowledge of the subject matter as to require Fields' deposition (Docket No. 26, Def. Atty. Decl. ¶¶ 13, 9 (plaintiff having no knowledge of Fields, never meeting her); Docket No. 26, Fields Decl. ¶¶ 2, 3), although five personnel officials identified by the parties as being knowledgeable about plaintiff and her situation were not yet deposed (Docket No. 26, Def. Atty. Decl. ¶¶ 4-5, 7; id., Def. Memo. at 2, 3). Defendant contends that plaintiff is speculating that Fields has relevant evidence, despite her lack of knowledge (Docket No. 26, Def. Memo. at 7). Defendant also believes that plaintiff was not diligent in pursuing this inquiry, central to two of her claims (id. at 8).
Defendant argues that deposing Fields is harassment and urged plaintiff to withdraw a deposition notice (also to be conducted after the March 20, 2015, discovery deadline) (Docket No. 26, Def. Atty. Decl. ¶ 9). Plaintiff requested an extension of the discovery deadline (Docket No. 19; see Docket No. 20, Amended Scheduling Order), but she has not sought document production on the exemption issue, central to two of her claims (Docket No. 26, Def. Memo. at 3-4, 2). On April 7, 2015, after the discovery deadline, plaintiff noticed Fields' deposition, ostensibly to testify on the exempt/non-exempt status (Docket No. 26, Def. Memo. at 4). When plaintiff herself was deposed, she testified that she never met Fields, that she did not know whether Fields had any knowledge of her claims or had responsibilities regarding the exempt/non-exempt designation (id. at 4; id., Def. Atty. Decl. ¶ 9, Ex. C, Pl. EBT Tr. at 352-62). Plaintiff testified that Fields, as vice president, would have knowledge of the policies and procedures of Ford (Docket No. 26, Def. Atty. Decl., Ex. C, EBT Tr. at 353, 355-56), that Fields had published training on the difference between exempt and non-exempt (id. at 356-57). Plaintiff also testified that, from another action, Fields' name was mentioned, and that she had to become aware of exempt/non-exempt policies at the Buffalo plant as they arose in that case (id. at 359-60).
Fields is the "Group Vice President, Human Resources and Corporate Services" for defendant and is the highest ranking human services official (Docket No. 26 Fields Decl., ¶ 2). She denies knowing plaintiff or knowing her job title or what her job entails (id. ¶ 3). Fields also disclaims knowledge of how Ford classifies employees as exempt or non-exempt and denies any involvement in that decision making process (id.).
Defendant, in its reply, argues that plaintiff waited until the day before the discovery deadline to move for extension of the deadline (Docket No. 29, Def. Atty. Reply Decl. ¶ 3). Defendant proposes that if any extension of discovery time is granted, it should be limited to conduct a single deposition of a knowledgeable Ford representative in the Eastern District of Michigan, limited to the narrow issue of the exempt classification procedure (Docket No. 30, Def. Reply Memo. at 4-5).
Defense Motion for Protective Order
In response to plaintiff's motion, defendant moves for a protective Order, alternatively seeking to prohibit Ms. Fields' deposition or to have her (and other) deposition held where defendant's principal offices are (Docket No. 26, Def. Amended Notice of Motion), in Dearborn, Michigan (Docket No. 26, Fields Decl. ¶ 4) in the Eastern District of Michigan, 28 U.S.C. § 102(a)(1). Defendant argues that plaintiff has failed to show that Fields' testimony would be relevant in this action, given that Fields knows nothing about the exempt/non-exempt classification (Docket No. 26, Def. Memo. at 2). Defendant seeks a protective Order to avoid the annoyance and harassment of Fields (id. at 8). As a high-level official at Ford without personal knowledge relevant to this case, defendant argues that Fields (should she be examined at all) should be examined in her corporate home district rather than compelled to come to this District (id. at 9-10).
Defendant also seeks to hold any other deposition in the Eastern District of Michigan (see Docket No. 26, Def. Notice of Motion), but does not state specific witnesses plaintiff seeks to depose and where these persons are located.
Plaintiff is seeking the decision maker that set her exempt/non-exempt classification. She responds that she deposed Jeffrey Croff, defendant's HR manager in Buffalo (and proffered in defendant's initial disclosure), and Dr. Anade Long (nee Jacobs, see Docket No. 30, Def. Reply Memo. at 3), the former HR manager for defendant, and both officials were unable to testify as to the determination of exempt/non-exempt status and could not identify who did (since they did not make that determination themselves) (Docket No. 28, Pl. Atty. Decl. ¶¶ 3, 4, 5-6, Exs. A, B; id., Pl. 2d Memo. at 2). During Croff's deposition, he stated that he had no information relating to how duties were allocated by employee classification, because such decisions were centrally made (Docket No. 28, Pl. 2d Memo. at 3; Docket No. 28, Pl. Atty. Decl. Ex. A, Croff EBT Tr. at 39). Croff testified that he believed that "HR for HR" would determine exempt status, a person he could not name (Docket No. 28, Pl. Atty. Decl. Ex. A, Croff EBT Tr. at 40). Dr. Long later was examined and she testified that exempt classification was made by unnamed "salaried personnel in Dearborn" (Docket No. 28, Pl. Atty. Decl. Ex. B, Long EBT Tr. at 74). Dr. Long testified that plaintiff's position was exempt ...