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Miranda v. Mahard Egg Farm, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division

September 20, 2019

ISABEL TRANSITO MIRANDA, CESAR BAUTISTA, and CESAR ISLAS, Individually and On Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated Plaintiffs,
v.
MAHARD EGG FARM, INC., and MAHARD PULLET FARMS, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMOS L. MAZZANT, UNITED STAGES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs’ Motion to Compel Discovery (Dkt. #16). Having considered the motion and the relevant pleadings, the Court finds that Plaintiffs’ motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         BACKGROUND

         This case was filed by Isabel Transito Miranda, Cesar Bautista, and Cesar Islas on behalf of themselves and a class of similarly situated Hispanic employees (“Plaintiffs” or “Hispanic Workers”) (Dkt. #1). The workers were all employed, or are currently employed, by Mahard Egg Farm, Inc., and Mahard Pullet Farms, Inc., (collectively “Mahard”) “at various times since February 4, 2015” (Dkt. #1). Mahard is a domestic for-profit corporation with various facilities across Texas and Oklahoma, including Chillicothe, Texas that “manages both egg farms and egg processing plants” (Dkt. #1). Mahard hires its employees to “clean, sort, and package eggs” (Dkt. #1). According to Plaintiffs, their time with Mahard was filled with intimidation, abuse, and discrimination (Dkt. #1).

         “The Hispanic Workers’ work environment, ” according to the Complaint, “was permeated by intimidation and abuse. Mahard supervisory or management personnel-including Andy Mahard, Oscar San Miguel, and Tony Brown-regularly shouted at, cursed at, physically intimidated, and insulted the Hispanic Workers” (Dkt. #1). For example, Plaintiffs claim that “Mahard supervisory or management personnel hurled race-based insults at the Hispanic Workers”-in Spanish-“such as ‘worthless Mexicans, ” “monkeys, ” “fucking Hondurans, ” “stupid Guatemalans, ” “dumbasses, ” “motherfuckers, ” “wetbacks, ” and “illegals” (Dkt. #1). The supervisory or management personnel also, allegedly, “threatened to have the Hispanic Workers deported if they complained or did not obey orders” (Dkt. #1). In addition to verbal insults, Plaintiffs allege that the staff made “menacing gestures, ” threw tools and other objects at them, and, “on occasion, ” shoved, grabbed, or hit them (Dkt. #1). This physical conduct allegedly included sexual assault and harassment of some female Hispanic Workers (Dkt. #1). The personnel also, according to Plaintiffs, scolded the Hispanic Workers for taking rest breaks, “withheld information about their right to file claims for workers’ compensation benefits when they were injured, ” and falsified their hours to deprive them of wages (Dkt. #1).

         Along with physical and verbal abuse, the supervisory and management personnel allegedly “subjected the Hispanic Workers to unreasonably dangerous, unsanitary, and degrading conditions because of their race” (Dkt. #1). For example, Plaintiffs contend that Mahard “refused to provide the Hispanic Workers with even the most basic safety and hygiene resources, personal protection equipment, or safety training that is necessary for the work and required by applicable regulations or industry standards” (Dkt. #1). This allegedly included refusing to provide the Hispanic Workers with “safety training, respirators, or gas monitors to protect the Hispanic Workers from dangerous levels of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane, and carbon dioxide gases . . . .” (Dkt. #1). Further, Mahard allegedly refused to provide work boots, protective masks, earplugs, gloves, or aprons to Hispanic Workers-instead, Hispanic Workers were required to purchase any personal protection equipment themselves (Dkt. #1). On top of allegedly refusing to provide personal protection equipment, Plaintiffs contend that Mahard also refused to provide Hispanic Workers with bathrooms and potable water and required the Workers to “eat in the filthy farm environment, [with] no hand-washing facilities or clean break area” (Dkt. #1). Key to Plaintiffs’ claims is the allegation that “the non-Hispanic workers employed by Defendants were treated with more respect” (Dkt. #1).

         According to Plaintiffs’ Complaint, Isabel Transito Miranda, Cesar Bautista, and other Class Members were discharged after they “opposed or resisted” this alleged conduct (Dkt. #1). As a result of Mahard’s allegedly unlawful conduct and subsequent discharge of Plaintiffs, Miranda, Bautista, and Islas filed the present action on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated on February 4, 2019 (Dkt. #1). Plaintiffs claim violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 23(b)(1), (2), and (3) (Dkt. #1). Plaintiffs seek, among other things, compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorneys’ fees and costs (Dkt. #1). Mahard denies all allegations (Dkt. #2).

         On April 24, 2019, the Court issued the Order Governing Proceedings (Dkt. #5). In the Order, the Court instructed the parties to produce “[a] copy of all documents, electronically stored information, witness statements, and tangible things in the possession, custody, or control of the disclosing party that are relevant to the claim or defense of any party” (Dkt. #12). Such production was to be accomplished not later than 10 days after the deadline for the Rule 26(f) conference (Dkt. #12). The Order, pursuant to Local Rule CV-26(d), defined “relevant” as including:

(1) information that would not support the disclosing parties’ contentions; (2) those persons who, if their potential testimony were known, might reasonably be expected to be deposed or called as a witness by any of the parties; (3) information that is likely to have an influence on or affect the outcome of a claim or defense; (4) information that deserves to be considered in the preparation, evaluation, or trial of a claim or defense; and (5) information that reasonable and competent counsel would consider reasonably necessary to prepare, evaluate, or try a claim or defense

(Local Rule CV-26(d)). The Court then entered its Preliminary Scheduling Order (Dkt. #12) on July 1, 2019. In the Scheduling Order, the Court stated:

If the parties are unable to resolve the dispute without court intervention, the parties must then call the Court’s chambers to schedule a telephone conference regarding the subject matter of the dispute prior to filing any motion to compel. After reviewing the dispute, the Court will resolve the dispute, order the parties to file an appropriate motion, or direct the parties to call the discovery hotline

(Dkt. #12).

         On May 15, 2019, Plaintiffs served their first set of Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents (Dkt. #16, Exhibit A). The Interrogatories and Requests for Production were served in hopes of ascertaining “information related to the identities of class members and witnesses and to the work environment at Defendants’ facilities” (Dkt. #16). Mahard, however, believed that many of the Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents were overly broad, irrelevant, disproportional, and unduly burdensome (Dkt. #16, Exhibit B). Consequently, the parties, pursuant to the Court’s Preliminary Scheduling Order, sought a telephone conference with the Court (Dkt. #16). The telephone conference occurred on August 6, 2019 (Dkt. #16). At the conference, the Court authorized the Plaintiffs to file a motion to compel, if necessary (Dkt. #16). Plaintiffs took up the Court’s offer and have now filed a Motion to Compel (Dkt. #16) which Defendants oppose (Dkt. #17). The Interrogatories, Requests, and Responses that are in dispute state the following:

         A. Class Member and Witness Identities

Plaintiffs’ Interrogatory No. 1: Identify all individuals who were employed in a non-managerial position by Mahard Egg Farm, Inc., or Mahard Pullet Farm, Inc., at Mahard’s Chillicothe, TX, facility at any time from February 4, 2015, to the present.
i. Answer: Defendants object to this request on the grounds that it is overly broad and seeks information which is neither relevant, nor proportional to the needs of the case. Defendant Mahard Pullet Farm, Inc. did not employ Plaintiffs. Plaintiff Miranda worked at the Chillicothe farm from February of 2014 to February of 2015. Plaintiff Bautista was working at the Chillicothe farm at the time of his resignation in February of 2015. Plaintiff Islas was working at the Chillicothe farm when he resigned in March of 2013. He asked to come back to work in August of 2014 and made no mention of any discrimination, harassment, or retaliation throughout his second tenure which ended in February of 2017. Plaintiffs’ counsel was provided with a list of employees in connection with the FLSA claims in Transito Isabel Miranda, et. al. v. Mahard Egg Farm, Inc. and Mahard Pullet Farms, Inc. 4:15-cv-0406 and represented to the Court that they were acting in the best interests of individuals who joined that case and made no mention to the Court that there were any issues with ongoing harassment, discrimination, or retaliation. Plaintiffs’ counsel has been asked, but has not provided, the names of individuals on the lists already provided who were allegedly subjected to discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.
Plaintiffs’ Interrogatory No. 2: Identify all individuals and entities who managed, supervised, and/or employed Plaintiffs and/or those individuals identified in response to Interrogatory No. 1.
i. Answer: Oscar San Miguel, Blair Mahard, and Tony Brown.
Plaintiffs Request No. 3: The personnel files, performance metrics, reviews, discipline documents, or other documents relating to the evaluation of the job activity, productivity, or performance of those individuals whose identities are sought through Interrogatory No. 2.
i. Answer: Defendant objects to this request on the grounds that it is overly broad and seeks information which is neither relevant, nor proportional to the needs of the case. There are no allegations regarding these individuals job performance. The request also seeks confidential information. With respect to the allegations in this case, there are no documents relating to discrimination, retaliation or harassment other than attorney client communications and attorney work product because none of these individuals made complaints while employed – the first notice of claims was when Plaintiff Miranda filed her EEOC charge and when Plaintiffs Islas and Bautista filed this lawsuit.
ii. Supplemental Response: Subject to its previous objections, there are no documents in the personnel files of Oscar San Miguel, Blair Mahard, or Tony Brown relating to performance metrics, reviews, discipline, or other documents relating to alleged harassment, discrimination or retaliation.
Plaintiffs’ Request No. 13: A list containing extracted data in electronic, delimited, and importable format, identifying the following information for each Plaintiff and person whose identity is sought through Interrogatory Nos. 1 and 2: first and last name, employee identification number(s), last-known personal address, personal email address, and personal phone number.
i. Answer: Defendant objects to this request on the grounds that it is overly broad and unduly burdensome. Defendant further objects on the grounds that it seeks information which is neither relevant, nor proportional to the needs of the case. Plaintiff Miranda worked at the Chillicothe farm from February of 2014 to February of 2015. Plaintiff Bautista was working at the Chillicothe farm at the time of his resignation in February of 2015. Plaintiff Islas was working at the Chillicothe farm when he resigned in March of 2013. He asked to come back to work in August of 2014 and made no mention of any discrimination, harassment, or retaliation throughout his second tenure which ended in February of 2017. Plaintiffs’ counsel was provided with a list of employees in connection with the FLSA claims in Transito Isabel Miranda, et. al. v. Mahard Egg Farm, Inc. and Mahard Pullet Farms, Inc. 4:15-cv-0406 and represented to the Court that they were acting in the best interests of individuals who joined that case and made no mention to the Court that there were any issues with ongoing harassment, discrimination, or retaliation. Plaintiffs’ counsel has been asked, but has not provided, the names of individuals on the lists already provided who were allegedly subjected to discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. The request further seeks confidential information regarding individuals who are not a party to this lawsuit. Since Plaintiffs counsel has contact information regarding these individuals, if they consent to having their information released, counsel can obtain authorizations from them. With respect to the individuals identified in response to Interrogatory No. 2, they may only be contacted through counsel for Defendant.
ii. Supplemental Response: Subject to its previous objections, all documents containing this information are kept in the personnel files which have been produced.
Plaintiffs’ Request No. 14: A list containing extracted data in electronic, delimited, and importable format, providing the following information for each Plaintiff and person whose identity is sought through Interrogatory Nos. 1 and 2: first and last name, employee identification number(s), gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, dates of employment, job title, and job code.
i. Answer: Defendant objects to this request on the grounds that it is overly broad and unduly burdensome. Defendant further objects on the grounds that it seeks information which is neither relevant, nor proportional to the needs of the case. Plaintiff Miranda worked at the Chillicothe farm from February of 2014 to February of 2015. Plaintiff Bautista was working at the Chillicothe farm at the time of his resignation in February of 2015. Plaintiff Islas was working at the Chillicothe farm when he resigned in March of 2013. He asked to come back to work in August of 2014 and made no mention of any discrimination, harassment, or retaliation throughout his second tenure which ended in February of 2017. Plaintiffs’ counsel was provided with a list of employees in connection with the FLSA claims in Transito Isabel Miranda, et. al. v. Mahard Egg Farm, Inc. and Mahard Pullet Farms, Inc. 4:15-cv-0406 and represented to the Court that they were acting in the best interests of individuals who joined that case and made no mention to the Court that there were any issues with ongoing harassment, discrimination, or retaliation. Plaintiffs’ counsel has been asked, but has not provided, the names of individuals on the lists already provided who were allegedly subjected to discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. The request further seeks confidential information regarding individuals who are not a party to this lawsuit. Since Plaintiffs counsel has contact information regarding these individuals, if they consent to having their information released, counsel can obtain authorizations from them.
ii. Supplemental Response: Subject to its previous objections, all documents containing this information are kept in the personnel files which have been produced.

         B. Work Environment

Plaintiffs’ Request No. 1: All communications, inter-office memoranda, meeting notes and/or minutes, presentations, recordings, or other documents, relating to Plaintiffs and/or those individuals whose identities are sought through Interrogatory No. 1 and any of the following topics: working conditions, workplace safety, hiring, firing, promotion, discipline, working hours, pay, discrimination, harassment, race/ethnicity, and/or work schedules.
i. Answer: Defendant objects to this request on the grounds that it is overly broad and unduly burdensome. Defendant further objects on the grounds that it seeks information which is neither relevant, nor proportional to the needs of the case. Plaintiff Miranda worked at the Chillicothe farm from February of 2014 to February of 2015. Plaintiff Bautista was working at the Chillicothe farm at the time of his resignation in February of 2015. Plaintiff Islas was working at the Chillicothe farm when he resigned in March of 2013. He asked to come back to work in August of 2014 and made no mention of any discrimination, harassment, or retaliation throughout his second tenure which ended in February of 2017. Plaintiffs’ counsel was provided with a list of employees in connection with the FLSA claims in Transito Isabel Miranda, et. al. v. Mahard Egg Farm, Inc. and Mahard Pullet Farms, Inc. 4:15-cv-0406 and represented to the Court that they were acting in the best interests of individuals who joined that case and made no mention to the Court that there were any issues with ongoing harassment, discrimination, or retaliation. Plaintiffs’ counsel has been asked, but has not provided, the names of individuals on the lists already provided who were allegedly subjected to discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. The request further seeks confidential information regarding individuals who are not a party to this lawsuit. Since Plaintiffs counsel has contact information regarding these individuals, if they consent to having their information released, counsel can obtain authorizations from them.
ii. Supplemental Response: Subject to its previous objections, the Plaintiffs did not have company email or a company phone and Defendants are not aware of any communications with them on any personal email or personal phone. If Plaintiffs provide their cell phone numbers and personal email addresses they used while employed by Defendant Mahard Egg Farm, Inc., Defendants can conduct an additional search. With respect to documents relating to the plaintiffs and the topics listed: (1) with respect to Plaintiff Miranda, she did not raise any complaints while employed. The first knowledge of any issues was her EEOC charge filed long after her employment ended. Defendants have not located any such documents prior to receiving Plaintiff Miranda’s EEOC Charge. Documents generated in response to the EEOC charge are privileged; (2) with respect to Plaintiffs Bautista and Islas, they did not raise any complaints while employed. After receiving the vague claims in the EEOC charge filed by the Equal Justice Center, Defendants asked for the names of anyone who was complaining about the issues mentioned in the charge, but no names were provided. Plaintiff Bautista waited four years until after he left the employment of Mahard to assert his claims, so searching for information was difficult. The same holds true for Plaintiff Islas who waited two years. After a diligent search, Defendants have not located any responsive documents.
Plaintiffs’ Request No. 4: All training, orientation, and/or new employee materials, including handbooks or meeting minutes, distributed or otherwise made available to Plaintiffs and/or those individuals whose identities are sought through Interrogatory No. 1 to the extent such materials relate to any of the following topics: working conditions, workplace safety, hiring, firing, promotion, discipline, working hours, pay, discrimination, harassment, race/ethnicity, and/or work schedules.
i. Answer: Defendant objects to this request on the grounds that it is overly broad and unduly burdensome. Defendant further objects on the grounds that it seeks information which is neither relevant, nor proportional to the needs of the case. Plaintiff Miranda worked at the Chillicothe farm from February of 2014 to February of 2015. Plaintiff Bautista was working at the Chillicothe farm at the time of his resignation in February of 2015. Plaintiff Islas was working at the Chillicothe farm when he resigned in March of 2013. He asked to come back to work in August of 2014 and made no mention of any discrimination, harassment, or retaliation throughout his second tenure which ended in February of 2017. Documents relevant to the time frame when Plaintiffs were employed by Defendant are being produced.
ii. Supplemental Response: Subject to its previous objections, documents relating to the named Plaintiffs have been produced and marked as MAHARD 000186 through 000211.
Plaintiffs’ Request No. 5: All documents used by Plaintiffs and/or those individuals whose identities are sought through Interrogatory No. 1 and/or 2 in the performance of their job duties including, but not limited to, any policies, procedures, rules, guidelines, handbooks, manuals, or plans to the extent such documents relate to any of the following topics: working conditions, workplace safety, hiring, firing, promotion, discipline, working hours, pay, discrimination, harassment, race/ethnicity, and/or work schedules.
i. Answer: Defendant objects to this request on the grounds that it is overly broad and unduly burdensome. Defendant further objects because the request seeks information which is neither relevant, nor proportional to the needs of the case. Documents relating to the allegations regarding discrimination, harassment and retaliation are being produced.
ii. Supplemental Response: Subject to its previous objections, documents relating to the named Plaintiffs have been produced and marked as MAHARD000186 through MAHARD000211.
Plaintiffs’ Request No. 10: All documents relating to Defendants’ rules and policies, written or unwritten, regarding workplace health and safety that have been in effect at any time since February 4, 2015; any changes thereto; and the decision to make any such changes.
i. Answer: Defendant objects to this request on the grounds that it seeks information which is neither relevant, nor proportional to the needs of the case.
ii. Supplemental Response: Subject to its previous objections, documents relating to the named Plaintiffs have been produced and marked as MAHARD 000203 through 210.
• Plaintiffs’ Request No. 12: All documents relating to any formal or informal complaints, grievances, charges, allegations, audits, arbitrations, or lawsuits against or to Defendants relating to discrimination, harassment, environmental protection, smuggling ...

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