What started out as a racial discrimination lawsuit turned into a battle between plaintiffs seeking to protect the privacy of their medical and psychological records and defendants asserting their discovery rights.
The EEOC sought to protect the records of Giles Jefferson and other black employees of Rockford, Ill.-based Area Erectors Inc. after the agency filed a racial discrimination suit on their behalf in September 2006.
Area also sought information on all litigation in which each plaintiff had been involved in the past five years. The EEOC wanted to produce only information relating to civil rights violations, stating that all other litigation history was an invasion of privacy. Mahoney ruled that personal injury litigation could lead to discoverable evidence and ordered the EEOC to produce those records in addition to civil litigation records. However, he said no other type of litigation history would have to be produced.
"This is one of those genuinely important court decisions which, unfortunately, sometimes disappear without ever making it onto the radar screen," John Hendrickson, the EEOC's regional attorney in Chicago, said in a statement. "That sure shouldn't happen here because Judge Mahoney has so forcefully rejected the employer's attempt to use discovery to put the lives of victims of employment discrimination under the microscope."
Garen Dodge, a partner at Wiley Rein, says plaintiffs in employment discrimination cases often cast a big net, especially in cases involving the EEOC. Specifically, they ask for all litigation regarding discrimination and the number of EEOC charges for the past five years.