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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Windmill International

August 20, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Landya McCafferty United States Magistrate Judge


On behalf of charging party Nancy Hajjar, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") has sued Windmill International, Inc. ("Windmill") for violating Hajjar's rights under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Before the court is the EEOC's motion for a protective order, pursuant to Rule 26(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Federal Rules"), that would forbid Windmill from enforcing a subpoena duces tecum it served on Hajjar. In the alternative, the EEOC moves to quash the subpoena, pursuant to Rule 45(c)(3). Windmill objects. For the reasons that follow, the EEOC's motion is denied.


Hajjar complained to the EEOC about Windmill's decision to terminate her employment, alleging that she was discharged because of an actual or perceived impairment of her circulatory or cardiovascular system. On Hajjar's behalf, the EEOC sued Windmill. Hajjar has not intervened and, as a result, is not a party to this suit.

The EEOC and Windmill are subject to a protective order that, among other things, provides that "[f]or purposes of this action, documents within the possession, custody or control of Charging Party Nancy Hajjar shall be deemed to be within the possession, custody, or control of the EEOC, [and that] the EEOC's obligation to respond to discovery requests shall extend to such documents." Stip. & Prot. Order (doc. no. 11) ¶ 11.

In June of 2012, Windmill served Hajjar with a subpoena duces tecum in which it sought eleven categories of documents. For example, Windmill asked Hajjar to produce any and all documents which in any way relate[d] to [her] attempt(s) to find work or otherwise mitigate [her] alleged damages from April 12, 2010 to the present, Pl.'s Mot. for Prot. Order, Ex. A (doc. no. 12-1), at 4. It also asked her to produce any documents related to any communication between [her] and Defendant Windmill International or Defendant's agents or employees from June 2008, to the present. (Defendant does not seek production of communications between [Hajjar] and the EEOC's counsel of record in this matter), id. The eleven categories of documents Windmill seeks from Hajjar are, generally, a subset of the documents listed in a request for production propounded by Windmill on the EEOC in March of 2012.*fn1 The EEOC produced some of the requested documents, but also objected to portions of Windmill's request.


The EEOC now moves for a protective order that either forbids enforcement of the subpoena Windmill served on Hajjar or quashes it. The EEOC argues that the subpoena is unduly burdensome because it demands documents from Hajjar that it, the EEOC, has already provided to Windmill in response to its request for production. It further argues that the documents Windmill seeks by subpoena are duplicative of the documents it has already produced. In the EEOC's view, "the stated purpose of the Subpoena is to bypass the EEOC and put Hajjar, personally, to the trouble of articulating and perhaps litigating objections, rather than meeting and conferring with the EEOC to attempt to resolve any disputes on the merits."

Pl.'s Mot. for Prot. Order (doc. no. 12), at 3.*fn2 Windmill objects, arguing that: (1) the EEOC lacks standing to bring a motion to quash a subpoena served on Hajjar, who is a non-party to this action; (2) the fact that the EEOC has already produced the documents demanded by the subpoena does not prevent it,

i.e., Windmill, from seeking those same documents from Hajjar; and (3) the EEOC's claim that the subpoena imposes an undue burden on Hajjar is entirely unsupported. The EEOC replies, arguing that: (1) it has standing to move to quash, under Rule 45(c)(3); (2) even if it lacks standing to file a motion under Rule 45(c)(3), it has standing, as a party, to move for a protective order under Rule 26(c); and (3) the subpoena at issue runs afoul of the limits on discovery imposed by Rule 26(b)(2)(C).

The Federal Rules provide that "[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). That said, On motion or on its own, the court must limit the frequency or extent of discovery otherwise allowed by these rules or by local rule if it determines that:

(i) the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or can be obtained from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive;

(ii) the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity to obtain the information by discovery in the action; or

(iii) the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit, considering the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties' resources, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, ...

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