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Center v. Tyson Poultry, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Pine Bluff Division

September 9, 2014

JOHNNY CENTER, Plaintiff,
v.
TYSON POULTRY, INC.; MORRIS MAYERS, individually and as an employee of Tyson Poultry, Inc.; and DANIEL HOGGARD, individually and as an employee of Tyson Poultry, Inc., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

J. LEON HOLMES, District Judge.

This is an employment discrimination case in which the parties have presented several discovery disputes to the Court via motions. Tyson Poultry, Inc., filed a motion for a protective order following the termination of the deposition of Felita Wilkes, human resource manager at its Pine Bluff processing plant, after plaintiff's counsel asked a series of questions to which Tyson objected as beyond the scope of discovery and instructed Wilkes not to answer. After Tyson filed its motion for a protective order, the plaintiff, Johnny Center, filed a motion to compel, asserting that Tyson had not answered, or had not answered properly, several interrogatories and numerous requests for production of documents. Center also filed a motion to deem his requests for admission admitted, arguing that Tyson had not fairly met the substance of the requests in its responses. The parties have briefed the motions and also have argued orally at a hearing.

Center was hired by Tyson in July 2001. In 2013, he was an assistant plant manager at the Tyson processing plant in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. In the summer of 2013, Center applied for the position of plant manager but was not promoted to that position. Instead, Morris Mayers, who was the Pine Bluff complex manager, hired Louis Vallee, who was the plant manager at Tyson's facility in Sedalia, Missouri. In September 2013, Center was terminated, allegedly for removing product that was placed on "HACCP Hold"[1] and for theft of property. Center alleges that both of the employment decisions, the denial of his request to be promoted to plant manager and his termination, were based on his race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e), Title VII as amended.[2]

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), as amended in 2000, provides that parties "may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense[.]" And, "[f]or good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action." Id. As the Tenth Circuit has explained, this provision contemplates a "two-tiered discovery process; the first tier being attorney-managed discovery of information relevant to any claim or defense of a party, and the second being court-managed discovery that can include information relevant to the subject matter of the action." In re Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., 568 F.3d 1180, 1188 (10th Cir. 2009). Thus, when a party objects that discovery seeks information that is not relevant to the claims or defenses, the Court must determine whether discovery is relevant to the claims or defenses and, if not, whether good cause exists for authorizing it nevertheless because it is relevant to the subject matter of the action. Id. at 1188-89. "This good-cause standard is intended to be flexible." Id. at 1189.

In addition, discovery may be limited when the burden or expense of discovery outweighs the likely benefit. Rule 26(b)(2)(C) provides:

On motion or on its own, the court must limit the... extent of discovery otherwise allowed by these rules... if it determines that:
* * *
(iii) the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit, considering the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties' resources, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, and the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C)(iii). Tyson contends that the burden or expense of much of the discovery sought by Center outweighs its likely benefit and therefore should be limited under this provision of Rule 26.

Center has sought in discovery to obtain statistical information relating to the racial composition of the workforce at the Pine Bluff facility where he worked, as well as Tyson's workforce in the state of Arkansas. Tyson objects to most of those discovery requests. Center has cited several cases holding that statistical information regarding the composition of the workforce at the defendants' business may be relevant, even in an individual case, to show disparate treatment and to establish a claim of pretext. See, for example, Estes v. Dick Smith Ford, Inc., 856 F.2d 1097, 1102-05 (8th Cir. 1988); Donaldson v. Pillsbury Co., 554 F.2d 825, 832 (8th Cir. 1977); Parham v. Southwestern Bell Tel. Co., 433 F.2d 421, 426 (8th Cir. 1970). Although these cases predate the 2000 amendments to Rule 26, they concern the definition of relevancy under Fed.R.Evid. 401, and they have not been overruled; which is to say that they seem to indicate that statistical information regarding such matters as the composition of the workforce may be relevant to the plaintiff's claim or the defendant's defense even in an individual discrimination action. Moreover, the Eighth Circuit has recently acknowledged that statistical information may be relevant, even if it is insufficient standing alone, to carry the day for the plaintiff in an individual case. Wright v. St. Vincent Health Sys., 730 F.3d 732, 740-41 (8th Cir. 2013).

On the other hand, the Eighth Circuit has said:

Company-wide statistics are usually not helpful in establishing pretext in an employment-discrimination case, because those who make employment decisions vary across divisions. Absent some more particularized argument from plaintiff as to how such information might have helped in this case, we cannot say that the District Court abused its discretion in limiting the scope of [the plaintiff's] discovery request.

Carman v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 114 F.3d 790, 792 (8th Cir. 1997). Thus, "Courts have also limited the discovery of company records to the local facility where plaintiff was employed, where there is no showing of the need for regional or nationwide discovery." Sallis v. Univ. of Minn., 408 F.3d 470, 478 (8th Cir. 2005); see also Christian v. Frank Bommarito Oldsmobile, Inc., No. 4:08CV1423, 2009 WL 1657423, at *1-2 (E.D. Mo. June 10, 2009); Murphy v. KMart Corp., No. CIV 07-5080-KES, 2008 WL 5429643, at *6-8 (D.S.D. Dec. 27, 2008); Owens v. Sprint/United Mgmt. Co., 221 F.R.D. 649, 653-54 (D. Kan. 2004). To be relevant, evidence of discrete acts of discrimination must be acts of discrimination committed by the decisionmakers in the plaintiff's case. Callanan v. Runyun, 75 F.3d 1293, 1298 (8th Cir. 1996).

Center has not established good cause for expanding the discovery to include the entire state of Arkansas or Tyson's nationwide operations, so Tyson's objections to discovery into practices at facilities other than the one where Center was employed will be sustained. On the other hand, Tyson's objections to statistical information at the facility where Center was employed will be overruled unless the Court ...


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