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Woosley v. Bel Brands USA, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division

April 23, 2018

SHANNON WOOSLEY PLAINTIFF
v.
BEL BRANDS USA, INC. DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          H. BRENT BRENNENSTUHL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the motion of Defendant Bel Brands USA, Inc. for a protective order governing discovery disclosures (DN 25). Plaintiff Shannon Woosley has responded in opposition at ¶ 29, and Bel Brands has replied at ¶ 31.

         Nature of the Case

         Plaintiff was previously employed by Bel Brands and claims she was subjected to racial discrimination prohibited by the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, KRS 344 et seq. and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 200e et seq. She contends that she was subjected to offensive racial comments and complained to management at Bel Brands, but her complaints went largely unaddressed. Her complaint states that, prior to her termination, she was suspended for allegedly making inappropriate remarks to Bel Brands' human resources director and was later terminated “for waiting until she was at work to change into her work uniform” (DN 1-2, p. 3). She asserts that these adverse employment actions represent disparate treatment.

         Bel Brands' Motion

         Woosley has submitted discovery requests to Bel Brands for information and documents related to disciplinary actions against other current and former Bel Brands employees. Bel Brands represents that it has identified over two hundred pages of records which appear to be responsive to Woosley's request (DN 25, p. 2). These documents include “confidential employee complaints, internal investigations and disciplinary action forms” and involve over two-dozen current and former employees (Id.).

         Bel Brands requests that dissemination of these documents be restricted because some of it was “provided to human resources in confidence and other of which is potentially embarrassing or harmful for the employee who was disciplined as well as for the employee who complained” (Id. at p. 4). Bel Brands notes that the community where the facility is located is a small community and “Defendant has legitimate concerns that Plaintiff may disclose this sensitive information or otherwise use it for personal purposes unrelated to the prosecution of this litigation” (Id.).

         Woosley's Response

         Woosley contends that Bel Brands' motion fails to articulate specific facts demonstrating that there would be a clearly defined and serious injury should the information be disclosed without the requested restrictions and, as such, Bel Brands has failed to satisfy the criteria for imposition of a protective order. She contends Bel Brands has only made statements of a broad, speculative nature.

         Bel Brands' Reply

         Bel Brands argues that non-party employee records are customarily accorded a high-degree of confidentiality, citing cases from a variety of federal district courts as examples. Bel Brands further contends that, having demonstrated the necessity of confidentiality, the burden has shifted to Woosley to demonstrate that a protective order will impair her ability to conduct discovery, and she has failed to make any such demonstration.

         Discussion

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c)(1) provides that “a party or any person from whom discovery is sought may move for a protective order in the court where the action is pending . . . . The court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression or undue burden or expense . . . .” “To be sure, Rule 26(c) confers broad discretion on the trial court to decide when a protective order is appropriate and what degree of protection is required.” Seattle Times Co. v. Rhinehart, 467 U.S. 20, 36 (1984).

         The terms protective order and confidentiality order are often used interchangeably. Scott-Warren v. Liberty Life Assur. Co., NO. 3:14-CV-738-CRS-CHL, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90745, *54 (W.D. Ky. July 13, 2016). In essence, a confidentiality order is one of the protective reliefs available under Rule 26(c)(1)(B) whereby the court may specify the terms for disclosure or discovery. See Alvarez v. Aldi (Tex.) LLC, No. 3:13-cv-4122-L, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 99996, *8 (N.D. Tex. July 22, 2014). A confidentiality order will only be issued if the movant demonstrates good cause by articulating specific facts showing that a clearly defined and serious ...


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