A New Federal Appeals Court Ruling and How It May Help When You’re Conducting Pretrial Discovery in Your Discrimination Case

In a winning discrimination case, what happens at trial is obviously of huge importance. In many cases, though, what happens before trial is just as important – and sometimes even more so. Making sure that your pre-trial discovery is done the right way may be the difference between a successful outcome and an unsuccessful one, which is just another major reason why you should ensure you have a knowledgeable Atlanta employment discrimination lawyer on your side from the very start of your case.

Not only will your experienced attorney know the best processes for engaging in that discovery, but he/she will also be fully up-to-date on the latest changes and clarifications in the law and court rules that govern what you can and cannot do in discovery.

Take, for example, this recent decision from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, whose rulings directly govern federal discrimination cases brought in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. The plaintiff in that disability discrimination case, J.A., worked as an underwriter for an insurance company. After complications due to J.A.’s multiple sclerosis led to her hospitalization, certain executives and members of the company’s human resources department became aware of the underwriter’s MS.

On the job, J.A. had achieved awards, promotions, and glowing performance evaluations. In her final performance evaluation before her termination, J.A. received a rating of “exceeds expectations.” Nevertheless, the employer terminated the underwriter in late 2016, in what the employer called a “cost-cutting” move.

The crux of the underwriter’s federal disability discrimination case was that the employer fired her, not just to shed her salary, but to escape paying for her MS medications, which cost around $10,000 per month.

Seeking evidence in support of that argument, J.A. tried to conduct a deposition of the employer’s executive vice president of human resources. However, the trial judge ruled that the vice president did not have to sit for that deposition because he “did not have any relevant information about [J.A.]’s termination.”

Rules Should Be Construed ‘Liberally’ to Allow for ‘Robust’ Discovery

The underwriter, however, appealed and won. In its ruling in the underwriter’s favor, the appeals court reiterated several critical concepts when it comes to pre-trial discovery – concepts that can help you when you need to request documents, depositions, or other discovery in your discrimination case.

For one thing, the law says that you are entitled to “any information sought if it appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” The court said J.A. had a valid argument that the deposition she desired met that standard. “It stands to reason that if a company terminates an employee in an effort to ‘cut costs,’ someone at that company must have access to information on how costly an employee is—including pay and benefits.”

Those benefits, of course, would necessarily include insurance coverage for the employee’s prescription medications. Because the vice president J.A. wanted to depose was the company’s “decision maker” for the employer’s ERISA employee benefit plan and the “decision contact” for the employer’s BlueCross BlueShield insurance, the underwriter’s proposed deposition clearly would be more than just a “fishing expedition.”

The appeals court’s ruling helps make it that much easier for discrimination plaintiffs like J.A. to do discovery and get the information they need for their cases. Of course, simply getting court approval to pursue certain avenues of discovery is just the start. You also have to know how to proceed, including what questions to ask. In this and the other aspects of pretrial discovery, having representation from an experienced litigator can make all the difference. When you are advancing your case, whether in federal court or Georgia state court, look to the disability discrimination attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert to provide you with that sort of powerful and effective legal representation. We have spent years helping workers with discrimination cases just like yours and are ready to get to work for you. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation regarding your situation.

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