Yesterday, in a unanimous 7-0 opinion, the California Supreme Court held in Williams v. Marshalls of CA that plaintiffs suing employers in Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) are entitled to broad discovery rights. Specifically, the Court held that PAGA plaintiffs can force an employer-defendant to turn over the names and contact information of other current and former employees.
According to the Court, “state policy favors access to contact information for fellow employees alleged to have been subjected to Labor Code violations.” Moreover, the PAGA statutory framework “imposes no good cause requirement for seeking information by interrogatory.” Thus, the Court ruled that, absent a court order to the contrary, employers must turn over the names of current and former employees to a plaintiff in a PAGA action so that the plaintiff may determine if others were harmed by the alleged wrongs claimed by the plaintiff.
The Court explained at length how California favors broad discovery rights, especially in consumer and labor matters. As the Court stated,
“A trial court must be mindful of the Legislature‘s preference for discovery over trial by surprise, must construe the facts before it liberally in favor of discovery, may not use its discretion to extend the limits on discovery beyond those authorized by the Legislature, and should prefer partial to outright denials of discovery.”
Only if there is a “special reason” — such as a compelling privacy right that outweighs the PAGA plaintiff’s discovery rights or if an employer proves that it would be subjected to an “undue or excessive” burden or expense if it were forced to comply — may a trial court act to limit a PAGA plaintiff’s discovery rights.
This case will undoubtedly embolden PAGA plaintiffs and their counsel. Now there is clear authority from the state’s highest court that expands discovery rights for PAGA plaintiffs which, in turn, leads to expanded liability for employers who are not following the state’s labor laws.
You can read the full opinion in Williams v. Marshalls of CA here.