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Eric Hemphill v. Aramark Corporation

April 15, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Susan K. Gauvey United States Magistrate Judge


Eric Hemphill, plaintiff, presents claims for discrimination on the basis of race and retaliation under Title VII, as well as claims under Maryland law for wrongful termination and breach of contract, arising out of defendant ARAMARK's termination of plaintiff's employment as a chef in January 2012. (ECF No. 2). Before this Court are plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery, (ECF No. 48), and plaintiff's status report regarding discovery. (ECF No. 58).


In his Motion to Compel, plaintiff contends that he has received "no documents or answers except for an incomplete employee file" in response to several discovery requests. (ECF No. 48-1, 2). Plaintiff summarily argues that "[d]efendants have clearly failed to meet their discovery obligations, and therefore, Plaintiff is entitled to relief under rule 37(A)." (Id.). While plaintiff attaches copies of his discovery requests as exhibits, he points to no specific request that has been ignored, and makes no attempt to identify documents in defendant's possession that it has not produced.

Indeed, Exhibit B to plaintiff's filing contradicts his assertion that defendant has failed almost entirely to respond to his document requests. (ECF No. 48-4). Exhibit B documents defendant's response to both plaintiff's first and second request for documents. (Id.). While defendant objected to many individual requests, it agreed to produce various documents, including organizational charts, memos and performance reports, employee hotline reports, an employee handbook, and plaintiff's personnel file. (Id. at 21-36). Plaintiff has not specified which objections he takes issue with, or which documents he seeks to compel. As such, on this filing alone the Court lacks sufficient information to grant or even address plaintiff's motion.

Plaintiff made more specific arguments regarding defendant's discovery conduct, however, in his February 24, 2013 discovery status update. (ECF No. 58). In his letter to the Court, plaintiff points to several categories of documents that defendant has allegedly failed to produce. (Id.). The documents include: certain documents from plaintiff's personnel file; "each and every employee file between 2004 and 2012;" hotline calls for the past ten years; documentation of every contract that Aramark entered into from 2000 to 2012; and electronic payroll documents. (Id. at 2).

While plaintiff's letter to the Court was not fashioned as a supplement to his earlier Motion to Compel, or as a second motion, in light of his pro-se status the Court will construe this letter as an addendum to plaintiff's initial motion to compel. As such, the Court will address each category of documents in turn. Pro se litigants are accorded "a degree of leniency" in the conduct of litigation. McCaskey v. Henry, 3:10-CV-390-GCM, 2012 WL 2451862 at *2 (W.D.N.C. June 27, 2012). In this case, the Court has clearly advised plaintiff in its Order of November 28, 2012 to "explain [] why [D]efendants' responses to his interrogatories are deficient, . . . identif[y] the documents he seeks, their relationship to his case, [and] the basis for this belief that they are in defendant's possession." (ECF No. 37). Accordingly, the Court must apply the rules of procedure to allow for the prompt and fair disposition of the discovery disputes and the litigation in its entirety.

A.Plaintiff's Personnel File

Plaintiff argues that defendant has not provided him with his complete personnel file. Drawing on a memo describing company policy regarding new hires, plaintiff argues that his personnel file should contain a variety of documents, including, among other things, his employment application, background investigation authorization consent form, and tax documents. (ECF No. 58, 1). Plaintiff generally alleges that he has not been provided with this information, although he fails to specify exactly what information was missing from the file provided to him by defendant. (Id.).

Defendant responds by noting that the memo referred to by plaintiff was effective as of June 2010, while plaintiff was hired in August 2004. (ECF No. 60, 2). Defendant argues that the memo has little bearing on the documents that were required to be in defendant's file on the date of his hiring. (Id.). As such, defendant contends "there is no evidence that Plaintiff's personnel file is incomplete." (ECF No. 60, 3).

The Court agrees that the document submitted by defendant bears little weight on the current case, as it is a memo related to employee hiring prepared several years after plaintiff was hired. Further, plaintiff has failed to specify which documents were missing from his employee file, or why these documents are particularly relevant to this case. As such, the Court denies plaintiff's motion to compel as to these documents.

B.3rd Party Personnel Files

Plaintiff's Request No. 8 seeks "complete copies of any employee's file which is in the same pay grade or similar position as the Complainant." (ECF No. 48-4, 25). In response, defendant objects that the request was overbroad, unduly burdensome, and sought documents not reasonably calculated to lead to the production of admissible evidence. (Id.). Defendant further objected that the request sought confidential information related to individuals not party to the action. (Id.).

In determining whether it is appropriate to compel the discovery of personnel files, courts in the Fourth Circuit have balanced the importance of personal privacy and accurate employee evaluations against the countervailing interest in broad discovery that provides each party with the information necessary to present their complete case before the court. See Kirkpatrick v. Raleigh County Bd. of Educ., 1996 U.S. App. LEXIS 3384 (4th Cir. W. Va. Feb. 29, 1996); Blount v. Wake Elec. Membership Corp., 162 F.R.D. 102, 105 (E.D.N.C. 1993). This test generally favors non-disclosure: personnel files, even if relevant, are only discoverable in "limited circumstances," such as when the "need for disclosure is compelling because the information sought is not otherwise readily available." United States EEOC v. McCormick & ...

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