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Langley v. International Business Machines Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

September 20, 2019




         Before the Court is Plaintiff Langley’s Motion to Compel Requests for Production and Depositions and for Leave to Exceed Ten Depositions and to Extend the Discovery Period (Dkt. No. 86); IBM’s Response (Dkt. No. 96); Langley’s Reply (Dkt. No. 108); and IBM’s Sur-reply (Dkt. No. 181). The Court held a hearing on the motion on September 4, 2019.

         I. Background

         This is an age discrimination case. Jonathan Langley was a 24-year employee of IBM who was terminated in 2017 as part of a reduction in force. He was employed in IBM’s Hybrid Cloud Group. Langley alleges that IBM terminated him because of his age in violation of the ADEA, and that this conduct was willful. Langley asserts he was laid off because of IBM’s decision to focus on hiring younger workers, and to lay off older workers through a number of “reductions in force” to make room for the new hires. He claims that IBM applied subjective RIF criteria to screen out older workers, and that he was terminated as a result of these decisions.

         Langley moves to compel discovery of executive level communications and documents which he maintains show a company-wide strategy to lower the age of IBM’s workforce.[1] In addition, Langley requests permission to take apex-level depositions of IBM’s CFO James Kavanaugh, former CFO Martin Schroeter, and CEO Ginni Rometty. With regard to the document requests, Langley states that IBM has refused to produce documents unless they relate specifically to Langley and the “CLDR” resource action, which is the identifier that IBM’s human resources department gave the reduction in force that included Langley. Langley maintains that CLDR is a fictional entity, and was created by IBM’s resource action specialists to group IBM workers in such a way as to make the layoffs appear less obviously age-based than they were. He thus contends that document discovery should not be limited as IBM contends, and urges the Court to order IBM to produce documents based on the parameters contained in the subject RFPs. Langley further contends that he is entitled to take the depositions of the three executives based on public statements made by them indicating what he contends is an age-based bias, and to determine if they participated in the decisionmaking leading to the layoffs. Because taking these depositions would exceed the maximum of ten allowed by the Federal Rules, and because they involve high level executives, Langley seeks permission from the Court to take the depositions, and a 90-day extension of the discovery period to conduct the depositions.

         IBM opposes all of these requests. It argues it has turned over all responsive and relevant documents in compliance with this Court’s prior orders, and has made the leadership of the Hybrid Cloud Group available for depositions. IBM notes that Langley has either declined to depose these individuals or, for those he did depose, he failed to question them about the same matters he now seeks to inquire about at the apex depositions. IBM states that its high level executives have no personal knowledge of, nor did they have any personal involvement in, Langley’s termination or the CLDR action that led to Langley’s termination. IBM maintains that the decision to conduct the CLDR resource action was a decision made solely by the Hybrid Cloud Group’s management, and the executives Langley wishes to depose and obtain documents from played no part in that decision.

         II. Relevant Standard

         Under Rule 34, a party may request that any other party produce any designated documents or electronically stored information in the responding party’s possession, custody, or control. Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(a)(1)(B). If a party fails to produce documents requested under Rule 34, the requesting party may move under Rule 37 for an order compelling production. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B)(iv). A party that opposes the Rule 34 request must “state with specificity the grounds for objecting to the request, including the reasons.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(a)(2)(B); Walters v. Sentry Link, LLC, 2018 WL 837611, at *3 (W.D. Tex. Feb. 9, 2018) (“The party resisting discovery must show specifically how each discovery request is not relevant or otherwise objectionable.”) (citing McLeod, Alexander, Powel & Apffel, P.C. v. Quarles, 894 F.2d 1482, 1485 (5th Cir. 1990)). Rule 26(b)(1) sets out the scope of permissible discovery, stating that:

[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). If the Court determines that proposed discovery is outside this scope, the Court “must limit the frequency or extent of discovery otherwise allowed by these rules[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C)(iii). “Trial courts are afforded substantial discretion in determining whether to grant or deny a motion to compel discovery.” Escamilla v. United States, No. 14-246, 2015 WL 12732889, at *2 (W.D. Tex. Apr. 13, 2015).

         III. Analysis

         This is the third instance in which the Court has been forced to address the proper scope of discovery for this case. Because IBM took the initial position that Langley was only entitled to discovery that pertained to his four-person team, early in the case the Court granted Langley’s motion to compel, and took an initial stab at identifying how broad the discovery in the case should be. Dkt. No. 52. Admitting that its “understanding of IBM’s structure is rudimentary at this stage of the case, and is based primarily on the information provided by IBM’s counsel at the hearing, ” the Court’s conclusion then was

that discovery at the level of the Hybrid Cloud Group is reasonably likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Accordingly, the Court will direct IBM to produce documents from within that group responsive to Langley’s requests for production. Further . . . at this time the Court will limit discovery to the ...

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