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Benavidez v. Greenwich Hotel Limited Partnership

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 20, 2017

EDGAR BENAVIDEZ, ALI KAZI, MARVIN CASTANEDA, IVAN PERALTACABRERA, LUIS VICTORIA, PATRICK DESROSIERS, ROCIO RIBEIRO, and DOUGLAS MOLINA, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
GREENWICH HOTEL LIMITED PARTNERSHIP d/b/a HYATT REGENCY GREENWICH, HYATT EQUITIES, L.L.C., and HYATT CORPORATION, Defendants.

          RULING ON PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO COMPEL

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs, current and former banquet servers employed by Defendants to work at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Old Greenwich, CT, (“Hyatt”) bring claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and state labor laws. Plaintiffs claim that Defendants failed to pay them a minimum wage by unlawfully relying on a “tip credit, ” in violation of 29 U.S.C. §§ 203(m), 206 and 215 (a)(2). Plaintiffs also claim that Defendants diverted the tips/gratuities they were entitled to, in violation of Connecticut Wage Payment Laws Sec. 31-71e.

         Pending before the Court now is Plaintiffs' motion to compel discovery, ECF No. 70. Plaintiffs' motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiffs, current and former banquet servers, worked at the Hyatt from as little as six years to as many thirty years. Defendants compensate Plaintiffs using a tip pool, comprised of a portion of the service charge and also any cash tips that servers receive. Mot. to Compel, ECF No. 70, 2. Banquet captains, who supervise the servers, are included in the alleged tip pool. Id. Plaintiffs allege that banquet captains are “supervisors” under relevant labor laws, and should not be entitled to money from the tip pool. Id. They allege that Defendants are liable for damages comprised of the unlawful tip credits that Defendants took with respect to Plaintiff's wages, the tips/gratuities that Defendants diverted from Plaintiffs, as well as consequential damages, liquidated damages, reasonable attorneys' fees, and the costs and disbursements of the action. See Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 65, 68.

         Defendants argue that the service charge is not a tip under relevant regulations. Def.'s Opp. Mem., ECF No. 72, 2. If the service charge is a tip, Defendants further argue, they are entitled to an affirmative defense because they “acted in good faith and had reasonable grounds for believing” that the Hotel's payment structure was legal. Mot. to Compel, 7 (citing Answer, Mot. to Compel, Ex. D, ECF No. 70-6, ¶ 22).

         As both parties agree, the Hotel pays a certain percentage of the total cost of each banquet to its employees. See Mot. to Compel, 1; Defs.'s Opp. Mem., 2. Specifically, banquet customers pay a 23% service charge on top of the fees for their event. See Id. Of that 23%, 16.56% is paid to the employees and the rest is kept by the Hotel. Id.

         Plaintiffs seek an order compelling the production of documents that “reveal the revenue realized by the Hotel for each and every banquet/event held within the banquet department” for the first quarter of 2014, 2015, and 2016. Mot. to Compel, 8. Plaintiffs also seek all documents that show how Defendants calculated the 23% mandatory service charge and the 16.56% charge that was distributed to service personnel at each event. Id. Defendants object that Plaintiffs' requests are not proportional to the needs of the case nor relevant to the dispute at hand. Defs.' Opp. Mem, 2-6.

         II. Discussion

         Rule 26(b)(1), as amended on December 1, 2015, recognizes that “[i]nformation is discoverable ... if it is relevant to any party's claim or defense and is proportional to the needs of the case.” Rule 26 Advisory Committee Notes to 2015 Amendments. Even after the 2015 amendments, “[r]elevance is still to be construed broadly to encompass any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could bear on any party's claim or defense.” Bagley v. Yale Univ., No. 3:13-CV-01890 (CSH), 2015 WL 8750901, at *7 (D. Conn. Dec. 14, 2015) (citing State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Fayda, No. 14 Civ. 9792, 2015 WL 7871037 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 12, 2015), at *2.

         Moreover, the district court has “wide latitude to determine the scope of discovery.” In Re Agent Orange Product Liability Litigation, 517 F.3d 76, 103 (2d Cir. 2008); Mirra v. Jordan, No. 13-CV-5519, 2016 WL 889683, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 23, 2016) (“Motions to compel are left to the court's sound discretion.”). “The objecting party bears the burden of demonstrating specifically how, despite the broad and liberal construction afforded [by] the federal discovery rules, each request is not relevant or how each question is overly broad, unduly burdensome or oppressive.” Klein v. AIG Trading Group Inc., 228 F.R.D. 418, 422 (D. Conn. 2005) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         Plaintiffs seek an order compelling the production of documents that “reveal the revenue realized by the Hotel for each and every banquet/event held within the banquet department” during the first quarters of 2014, 2015, and 2016. Mot. to Compel, ECF No. 70, 8. Defendants object that Plaintiffs' requests are not proportional to the needs of the case nor relevant to the dispute at hand. Def.'s Opp. Mem., 2-6.

         The motion to compel concerns three of Plaintiffs' requests for documents: Request No. 2, which seeks “documents and ESI … concerning Plaintiffs' remuneration, including but not limited to gratuities and tips”; Request No. 32, which seeks documents identified in Defendants' initial required disclosures, including “payroll records” for Plaintiffs; and Request No. 26, which seeks “documents responsive to Defendants' affirmative defenses.” Mot. to Compel, 7.

         Plaintiffs seek the documents to determine “how the tip/gratuity amounts that Defendants pay them within their paycheck every week is calculated, ” which is directly relevant to their claims concerning the deprivation of tips. Mot. to Compel, 7. They also contend that the request is relevant to the Defendants' First Affirmative Defense, in which Defendants allege that they “acted in ...


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