Plaintiffs Given Broad Access to Discovery in PAGA Suits by California Supreme Court

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by Grace Lim-Ayres, Esq.

On July 13, 2017, the California Supreme Court in Williams v. Superior Court (Marshalls of CA, LLC) issued an opinion addressing the scope of discovery in representative actions brought under PAGA (Private Attorneys General Act of 2004, codified in Cal. Lab. Code § 2698 et seq.).  The Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) authorizes aggrieved employees to file lawsuits to recover civil penalties on behalf of themselves, other employees, and the State of California for Labor Code violations.

The Williams Court unanimously reversed the trial court’s discovery order denying plaintiff access to statewide contact information for fellow employees of other Marshalls stores.  It held that plaintiffs in PAGA actions have access to a broad scope of discovery similar to discoverable information in a class action.  The plaintiff is entitled to statewide contact information at the onset of the case to determine which cause of action to plead, and whether a broader representative action is warranted.

In what could be considered another blow to employers in an already employee-friendly state, given the relatively low threshold for pleading, employees may now bring more PAGA claims that are in fact “fishing expeditions”, which will in turn require employers to spend more time defending against them.  In addition, it is clear that statewide contact information is relevant and discoverable in a PAGA claim at the outset of the case. Continue reading