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Jauhari v. Sacred Heart University, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 2, 2017

ALKA JAUHARI
v.
SACRED HEART UNIVERSITY, INC.

          RULING ON MOTION FOR PROTECTIVE ORDER [DOC. #54]

          HON. SARAH A. L. MERRIAM UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is a motion by defendant Sacred Heart University, Inc. (“defendant”) for a protective order. [Doc. #54]. Plaintiff Alka Jauhari (“plaintiff”) has submitted a response in opposition. [Doc. #58]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS, in part, defendant's Motion for a Protective Order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff commenced this action on May 3, 2016, alleging employment discrimination. [Doc. #1]. In her Amended Complaint, plaintiff alleges that she was denied tenure and a promotion on the basis of her race, national origin, and/or gender, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act; and the common law of the State of Connecticut. See generally Doc. #28.

         On October 26, 2016, plaintiff served her First Set of Interrogatories and Requests for Production; on December 7, 2016, she served her Second Set of Interrogatories and Requests for Production. See Doc. #55-3 at 23; Doc. #55-4 at 10. The discovery requests seek, inter alia, information and documents concerning other employees of defendant. After the parties alluded to discovery issues in a Joint Status Report and subsequently apprised the Court of a specific discovery dispute, the undersigned held a telephonic conference on February 8, 2017. [Docs. ##52, 53]. During the conference, the parties indicated that they preferred to have the discovery dispute resolved prior to conducting a deposition of defendant's witness. See Doc. #52. Accordingly, the Court advised the parties to meet and confer, and the Court set a briefing schedule for any discovery motion related to the issues at hand. See Doc. #52. On February 17, 2017, defendant filed the instant Motion for a Protective Order, Memorandum in Support, and Proposed Order. [Docs. ##54, 55, 56]. On February 27, 2017, plaintiff filed a Memorandum in Opposition.[1] [Doc. #58]. The motion is now ripe for the Court's review.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure sets forth the scope and limitations of permissible discovery:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). “The party resisting discovery bears the burden of showing why discovery should be denied.” Cole v. Towers Perrin Forster & Crosby, 256 F.R.D. 79, 80 (D. Conn. 2009).

         A protective order may be issued by the Court pursuant to Rule 26(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides, in relevant part: “The court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense, including ... forbidding the disclosure or discovery[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1)(A). “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). Further, “[w]here the discovery is relevant, the burden is upon the party seeking non- disclosure or a protective order to show good cause.” Dove v. Atl. Capital Corp., 963 F.2d 15, 19 (2d Cir. 1992).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendant requests that plaintiff be precluded from discovery regarding: (1) the qualifications of other employees (“comparator discovery”); (2) other complaints of discrimination against defendant; and (3) complaints made by female students regarding inappropriate behavior of a professor in the Political Science department. See Doc. #55 at 1-3. Defendant contends that, inter alia, the information sought is not relevant. See generally Doc. #55. Plaintiff objects, and argues that the discovery sought is relevant to her claims, and therefore discoverable. See generally Doc. #58.

         To establish discriminatory treatment pursuant to Title VII, plaintiff must show that she was “treated less favorably than others solely because of [her] race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” Zahorik v. Cornell Univ., 729 F.2d 85, 91 (2d Cir. 1984); see also 42 U.S.C. §§2000e, et seq. Plaintiff must first prove a prima facie case by showing that “(1) [s]he is a member of a protected class; (2) [s]he was qualified to be a tenured professor; (3) [s]he suffered an adverse employment action in the denial of tenure; and (4) the circumstances give rise to an inference of discrimination.” Tori v. Marist Coll., 344 F. App'x 697, 699 (2d Cir. 2009); see also Zahorik, 729 F.2d at 92. “[A] prima facie case that a member of a protected class is qualified for tenure is made out by a showing that some significant portion of the departmental faculty, referrants or other scholars in the particular field hold a favorable view on the question.” Zahorik, 729 F.2d at 93-94. “[I]f the plaintiff has established a prima facie case, the burden of producing evidence shifts to the defendant to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection.” Id. at 92 (quotation marks and citation omitted). If defendant meets its burden, “the plaintiff may offer evidence that the defendant's ostensibly legitimate reasons were not genuinely held but were merely a pretext for discrimination.” Id.

         A. Comparator Discovery

         Defendant seeks to preclude plaintiff's requests for discovery regarding (1) tenure applicants in other departments of the university, and (2) other tenure applicants within plaintiff's department. See Doc. #55 at 6. Defendant argues that plaintiff's discovery requests seek information that is not relevant to the instant action, and that it would be unduly burdensome to collect and produce said comparator information. See Id. at 6-8. Specifically, defendant argues that university-wide discovery would not result in comparable information, as candidates for tenure in different academic departments are not similarly situated to plaintiff, who is a faculty member in the Department of Government, Politics, and Global Studies. See Id. at 5-6. Defendant also contends that there are no relevant comparators in plaintiff's academic department, because the makeup of the selection committee was not the same for the only other tenure candidate within the department during the relevant time period. See Id. at 7. Finally, defendant argues that plaintiff's requests implicate privacy and confidentiality concerns. See Id. at 5.

         In opposition, plaintiff makes several arguments to support the contention that the discovery she seeks is relevant. See generally Doc. #58. Plaintiff claims that the named comparators she has selected are similarly situated to her, as they were held to the same university-wide standards for tenure and promotion as she. See Doc. #58 at 6. She further argues that an inference of discrimination can be established from “procedural defects in the tenure process” and that information regarding defendant's application of their procedures -- purportedly available in the comparators' records -- would therefore be relevant. Id. at 7. Plaintiff also seeks to use the comparator discovery to prove that defendant's rationale for denying her tenure was pretextual. See Id. at 7-8.

         “A plaintiff relying on disparate treatment evidence must show she was similarly situated in all material respects to the individuals with whom she seeks to compare herself.” Mandell v. Cty. of Suffolk,316 F.3d 368, 379 (2d Cir. 2003). In order to be an appropriate comparator, “the other individual must have a situation sufficiently similar to plaintiff's to support at least a minimal inference that the difference of treatment may be attributable to discrimination.” Bagley v. Yale Univ., No. 3:13CV01890(CSH), 2015 WL 8750901, at *2 (D. Conn. Dec. 14, 2015); see also Berube v. Great Atl. & Pac. Tea Co., 348 F. App'x 684, 686 (2d ...


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