Supreme Court permits state wide discovery of employee’s contact information in PAGA Representative Actions

Williams v. Superior Court (2017) 3 Cal. 5th 531, 220 Cal.Rptr.3d 472

In the course of discovery of a PAGA representative action, Plaintiff Michael Williams sought contact information for fellow California employees. Employer opposed and Plaintiff moved for a motion to compel.

The trial court granted the motion as to the store where Plaintiff worked, but denied it as to every other California store. Plaintiff petitioned the Court of Appeal to compel the trial court to vacate its discovery order. The Court of Appeal denied the writ, holding that as the party seeking to compel discovery, must “set forth specific facts showing good cause justifying the discovery sought.” Court of Appeal noted that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate good cause to discover the contact information and employment history for all 16,500 statewide employees.

On Appeal, Supreme issued a unanimous opinion holding that a representative plaintiff in a Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) case need not show good cause at the outset of litigation before the employer is required to produce the names and contact information of other alleged aggrieved employees.

Court succinctly summarised its decision as follows:

In the absence of privilege, the right to discovery in this state is a broad one, to be construed liberally so that parties may ascertain the strength of their case and at trial the truth may be determined. Our prior decisions and those of the Courts of Appeal firmly establish that in non-PAGA class actions, the contact information of those a plaintiff purports to represent is routinely discoverable as an essential prerequisite to effectively seeking group relief, without any requirement that the plaintiff first show good cause. Nothing in the characteristics of a PAGA suit, essentially a qui tam action filed on behalf of the state to assist it with labor law enforcement, affords a basis for restricting discovery more narrowly. Nor, on this record, do other objections interposed in the trial court support the trial court’s order. We reverse. (3 Cal.5th 531 at 538.)