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Ortiz v. Potter

April 1, 2010

OLGA G. ORTIZ AND PATRICIA SOTO, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JOHN E. POTTER, POSTMASTER GENERAL, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Presently before the court is defendant's motion for a "protective order limiting the extent of plaintiffs' questioning of Richard Matsuhiro and other United States Postal Service ("USPS") employees regarding a 1990 incident involving Mr. Matsuhiro and another USPS employee."*fn1 (Def.'s Statement in Supp. of Mot. for Protective Order at 1:22-25, Dkt. No. 52.) Specifically, defendant seeks the protective order on the grounds that "the requested information is irrelevant, will not lead to admissible evidence, is inadmissible pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 403 and 404(b), and on the basis that the disclosure of details will only unduly embarrass and annoy Mr. Matsuhiro." (Id. at 1:25-27.) Plaintiffs oppose defendant's motion and seek monetary sanctions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 30(d). (See Pls.' Statement in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Protective Order at 8-10, Dkt. No. 46.)

The court heard this matter on its law and motion calendar on April 1, 2010. Assistant United States Attorney Jason S. Ehrlinspiel appeared on behalf of defendant. Attorney Jeremy A. Graham appeared on behalf of plaintiffs. The undersigned has fully considered the parties' briefs, oral arguments, and the record in this case and, for the reasons that follow, denies defendant's motion for a protective order and denies plaintiffs' request for sanctions.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Relevant Factual Background

The factual background of this case is set forth in more detail in prior court orders (see Dkt. Nos. 29, 39), and thus will only be recounted here as necessary to the disposition of defendant's motion.

The operative complaint is plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint. (Dkt. No. 22.) Relevant here,*fn2 plaintiff Ortiz alleges claims for: sexual harassment in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"); racial harassment in violation of Title VII; disability discrimination in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. ("Rehabilitation Act"); failure to provide reasonable accommodation in violation of the Rehabilitation Act; failure to engage in the interactive process in violation of the Rehabilitation Act; failure to give full consideration to placement and advancement in violation of the Rehabilitation Act; and retaliation in violation of Title VII and the Rehabilitation Act. (See Third Am. Compl. ¶¶ 55-95.)

Ms. Ortiz alleges, in part, that in 2001 she was assigned to work in the Stockton Main Post Office, and that Richard Matsuhiro was her immediate supervisor. (Id. ¶ 9.) She further alleges that during various periods from 2002 through mid-2007, Mr. Matsuhiro regularly directed racially and sexually degrading comments at her and regularly subjected her to unwelcome sexual touchings. (See id. ¶¶ 12-19, 22-23.)

At the center of this discovery dispute is an incident that is alleged to have taken place between Mr. Matsuhiro and Renee Rendon, another USPS letter carrier, in and around 1990. Plaintiffs have submitted Ms. Rendon's declaration, which declares that Mr. Matsuhiro sexually assaulted her while she was delivering mail on her mail route, and that Ms. Rendon filed a sexual harassment grievance with USPS.*fn3 (See Rendon Decl. ¶¶ 2-9.)

Ms. Rendon's grievance resulted in a settlement agreement between Ms. Rendon and USPS management. (Def.'s Statement in Supp. of Mot. for Protective Order, Ex. 1.*fn4 ) In exchange for Ms. Rendon's release of her claims, "Management" agreed, in part, that "Richard Matsuhiro will have total non-involvement in the complainant's postal career . . . ." (Id. at 1.) There is a potential dispute regarding the meaning of the terms of the settlement agreement in that plaintiffs contend, contrary to the language of the agreement, that it obligated USPS to preclude Mr. Matsuhiro from supervising any female letter carriers for his entire career, not just Ms. Rendon. (See Pls.' Statement in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Protective Order at 3:14-17; see also Rendon Decl. ¶ 10; Madewell Decl. ¶ 5-6; Mejia Decl. ¶ 4; Fuson Decl. ¶ 3.)

In 2007, Ms. Ortiz contacted Ms. Rendon and asked whether Ms. Rendon would provide a statement in connection with Ms. Ortiz's EEO investigation. (Rendon Decl. ¶ 11.) Ms. Rendon provided such a statement as part of the EEO investigation. (Id. ¶ 13 & Ex. 1.)

It also appears based on the submitted declarations that plaintiffs have had some difficulty acquiring a copy of the settlement agreement. Ms. Rendon was unable to procure this agreement from USPS in connection with making her EEO statement on Ms. Ortiz's behalf, and was apparently told by USPS that the document fell outside of USPS's document retention period. (See Rendon Decl. ¶ 12.) Another of Ms. Ortiz's declarants, Greg Fuson, attempted to obtain access to Mr. Matsuhiro's personnel file as president of a branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers, but the settlement agreement was not in the file. (Fuson Decl. ¶ 4.) Mr. Fuson also specifically requested a copy of the agreement from USPS, but was purportedly told that USPS no longer had a copy of the document. (Id. ¶ 5 & Ex. A.) As discussed below, however, defendant produced a copy of the settlement agreement in an effort to resolve the present motion. (Def.'s Statement in Supp. of Mot. for Protective Order at 2:13-16 & Ex. 1.) Defendant asserts that plaintiffs did not request this document through a request for production until March 19, 2010. (Id. at 2 n.1.)

B. The Depositions and the Parties' Efforts to Meet & Confer

On the basis of the text of e-mails submitted by plaintiffs in opposition to defendant's motion, it appears that the parties' counsel began scheduling depositions, including that of Mr. Matsuhiro, as early as September of 2009.*fn5 (Pls.' Index of Exs., Ex. F at 10.) In February 2010, the parties finally agreed that Mr. Matsuhiro's deposition would take place on March 24, 2010, and that the ...


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