Williams v. Superior Court gives insight into California's preference toward a broad right to discovery.

Williams v. Superior Court (Marshalls of CA) (Supreme Court of California)

Michael Williams, a former employee of Marshalls, brought an action against Marshalls as a PAGA claim, for wage and hour violations. During discovery, Williams requested production of contact information for fellow Marshalls employees throughout the state of California, where Marshalls had numerous different stores.  The trial court only granted Williams access to contact information of the employees of his own Costa Mesa Marshalls, and not the entire state of California.  This decision was upheld at the appellate level, requiring that Williams had to demonstrate a need for discovery and present evidence that he was mistreated by Marshalls to be granted access to such information. 

The right to discovery in California is broad, as the Legislature prefers informed cases rather than trial by surprise.  Any party may request discovery regarding relevant information in the case if the matter is admissible or could reasonably lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.  In terms of contact information, the state of California defaults that such information is generally within the proper scope of discovery.   

Marshalls denied the access to employees beyond those of Williams’ Costa Mesa store, claiming that his discovery was overbroad, unduly burdensome, and an invasion of privacy.  The California Supreme Court decided that the discovery of such contact information was not overbroad, in that a civil litigant’s right to discovery in California is broad, and courts are in favor of discovery.  This right to discovery of relevant subject matter includes the right to identity and locations of those persons who may have information about any discoverable matter useful in the case.  In his complaint, Williams sought relief on behalf of himself and his fellow aggrieved employees, who must be discovered to identify the scope and breadth of the violations.  Marshalls argued that Williams must disclose proof of the alleged violations, and trial court would not permit Williams access to the contact information for the remaining California Marshalls employees until he sat for a minimum of 6 hours of depositions, to prove the merit of his complaint. 

The Code of Civil Procedure does not authorize a trial court to demand proof of wrongdoing before ordering responses to discovery.  Amassing contact information of fellow employees is a starting point of discovery.  While the state of California protects the right of privacy of its citizens, it is believed that fellow employees would like to have notification of a possible suit against their employer, to be afforded the opportunity to participate in a suit to remedy employment law violations and potentially recover a reward.  Williams was willing to cover the costs of mailings to all former employees, giving opportunity for them to opt out of having their contact information shared.  The Supreme Court of California decided that the trial court and appellate courts erred in requiring Williams to provide a proof of need for contact information.  They subsequently reversed the decision of the lower courts, and sent the case back for further proceedings, consistent with the discovery rulings of the Supreme Court.

Application: The request for production of addresses and contact information of fellow employees is considered within the scope of proper discovery in a case.  The plaintiff does not have to establish proof of employment violations to begin discovery, as the state of California prefers a broad right to discovery.