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SATCHELL v. FEDEX CORPORATION

September 6, 2005.

DERRICK SATCHELL, et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
FEDEX CORPORATION, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SUSAN ILLSTON, District Judge

ORDER PARTIALLY GRANTING AND PARTIALLY DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO COMPEL DOCUMENTS AND DEPOSITIONS
By letter briefs,*fn1 the parties seek resolution of two discovery disputes. First, plaintiffs seek to compel FedEx to produce documents related to "non-African-American and Latino employees' return to work after disability leave," as required by this Court's March 21, 2005 Order. Second, plaintiffs request that the Court grant leave to reopen the depositions of three FedEx employees.

The Court PARTIALLY GRANTS and PARTIALLY DENIES plaintiffs' motion for the reasons set forth below.

  1. Motion to Compel Production of Documents

  On March 21, 2005, this Court partially granted and partially denied plaintiffs' motion to compel production of documents and responses to interrogatories. Among other things, the Court ordered defendant to produce "documents relating to non-African-American and Latino employees' return to work after disability leave" on or before April 4, 2005. On April 1, 2005, FedEx informed plaintiffs that, due to the volume of records and the short time the company had to comply with the Court's Order, documents in the Foster City and Irvine offices would be made available to plaintiffs for inspection as they were kept in the ususal course of business. Defendant informed plaintiffs that the files were not maintained by race/national origin and that the documents filled 290 filing cabinet drawers.

  On April 21, 2005, plaintiffs' counsel and a paralegalinspected the documents in the Foster City office for three and a half hours. Plaintiffs contend that defendants' bulk in-house production of documents does not satisfy Rule 34(b) or this Court's March 21, 2005 Order because the files were not organized in any discernible way by name or time period. Plaintiffs also assert, based on conversations with the document custodian in Foster City, that 95-98% of the documents made available for inspection do not relate to long term disability claims, but rather to "in and out" claims for employees on leave for short periods of time, and are therefore irrelevant. Plaintiffs ask that the Court compel defendant to identify specific documents that are responsive to the request and require defendant to organize and label them.

  Defendant maintains that the production of documents as they are kept in the usual course of business satisfies both Federal Rule 34(b) and this Court's order, and that plaintiffs' request for files organized by race and length of leave is unreasonable. FedEx submits a declaration from Ramona McMaster, the document manager for FedEx's Foster City office, stating that the files in her office are kept alphabetically by employee name and fiscal year. Def.'s brief #341, Ex. A. Defendant also asserts that plaintiffs did not review a large enough sample of the files to draw reasonable conclusions about the usefulness of the information contained in the files.

  A. Organization of files

  Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 34(b), "[a] party who produces documents for inspection shall produce them as they are kept in the usual course of business or shall organize them and label them to correspond with the categories in the request." In general, if a responding party produces documents as they are kept in the usual course of business, there is no obligation to organize them in correspondence with the categories contained in the document requests. W.L. Gore & Assoc. v. Tetratec Corp., 1989 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14245 at *5 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 28, 1989). Some courts have ordered parties to organize documents to correspond to each request, but generally only where the court had reason to believe that there was an effort to obscure relevant documents or that the documents were not being produced as they are kept in the usual course of business. See, e.g., Board of Educ. of Evanston Township v. Admiral Heating & Ventilating, Inc., 104 F.R.D. 23, 36 (N.D. Ill. 1984) ("plaintiffs can legitimately fear defendants' unwillingness to segregate the documents masks a hope to obscure"); T.N. Taube Corp. v. Marine Midland Mortgage Corp., 136 F.R.D. 449, 456 (W.D.N.C. 1991) ("The Court doubts very much whether Defendant complied with the command of Rule 34(b) that documents be produced as kept in the usual course of business."). However, while parties may produce records as they are kept in the ordinary course of business, "the producing party does have a burden to select and produce the items requested rather than simply dumping large quantities of unrequested materials onto the discovering party along with the items actually sought under Rule 34." 8A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2213 (2d ed. 1994). In addition, an unwieldy record keeping system may not be used to prohibit a party from reviewing relevant documents. See Wagner v. Dryvit Sys., Inc., 208 F.D.R. 606, 611 (D. Neb. 2001) (holding that producing large numbers of documents in no apparent order does not comply with a party's discovery obligations); In re Brand Name Prescription Drugs, 1995 WL 3603526 at *2 (N.D. Ill. June 15, 1995).

  FedEx has submitted a declaration from the document manager for FedEx's Foster City office stating that the files in question are kept alphabetically by employee name and fiscal year. Document #341, McMaster Decl. ¶ 5. This assertion directly contradicts plaintiffs' claim that the documents were "not kept in any order at all." Pls.' brief #337 at 3. The Court assumes that defendant has correctly presented the nature of the filing system and ORDERS FedEx to produce all disability related documents from the Foster City office in the manner described in the McMaster declaration. Specifically, all disability related files from the Foster City office must be made available to plaintiffs in order by year and alphabetically within each year. Defendant must also provide plaintiffs with affidavits signed both by the FedEx record custodians and by FedEx counselattesting to the specific nature of the filing systems used in all other offices housing relevant disability documents. If the Court is not satisfied that there is a discernable organization of disability files in other offices, FedEx will be ordered to produce all documents in the manner that documents are kept in Foster City.

  B. Race related information Plaintiffs seek an order compelling defendant to produce information organized by race and specifically identifying all non-African-American and Latino employees who returned to work after disability leave. Defendant maintains that this request is unreasonable because race is not relevant to the administration of a leave of absence, and therefore FedEx has not identified employee race in the files as they are kept in the usualcourse of business.

  The Court finds defendant's explanation for the absence of race related information in its disability files to be reasonable. Defendant is not required to do the extra work of sorting files by race to meet plaintiffs' discovery request and may produce the files as kept in the ordinary course of business. However, defendant may not obscure information that would enable plaintiffs to identify individual employees' files by race on their own. Therefore, the Court orders defendant to produce information that will enable plaintiffs to determine the race of employees on disability leave. Specifically, defendant is ORDERED to produce: (1) a list that identifies each employee by name and number, if FedEx has not already done so; and (2) a list of the names of all employees who have taken disability leave in the time period relevant to the litigation. Plaintiffs can then match these lists with the information previously provided by FedEx identifying the race/nationality of all FedEx employees.

  C. Long-term versus short-term disability

  Plaintiffs assert that 95-98% of the documents made available for inspection were irrelevant to plaintiffs' claims because they did not relate to long-term disability claims, but rather to "in and out" claims for leave for short periods of time. Defendant contends that, because FedEx does not separate long-term and short-term disability files in the normal course of business, it is not required to do so to meet plaintiffs' request.

  In neither their original discovery request nor in papers submitted in support of this motion did plaintiffs request that production of documents be limited to those employees on disability leave for a specific length of time, distinguish between "in and out" and long-term files, or define "long-term disability." This Court's March 21, 2005 Order compels defendant to produce only ...


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