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Brown v. Mountainview Cutters, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

May 27, 2016

TIFFANY S. BROWN, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Tiffany S. Brown brings this employment discrimination action against her former employer, Mountainview Cutters, LLC d/b/a Great Clips ("Great Clips"). The case is presently before the court on Brown's motion to quash the subpoenas duces tecum issued by Great Clips to several third parties. For the following reasons, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         Factual Background

         Tiffany S. Brown is an African-American woman. At the time of her employment, she was the only African-American employee at Great Clips. Brown believes that she was subjected to unequal terms and conditions of employment because of her race. Specifically, she claims that she was treated less favorably than her Caucasian coworkers with respect to "scheduling, time off, and being allowed to work enough hours to earn paid vacation." Compl. ¶ 7.

         On one occasion, Brown's manager, Tim Phillips, gave a client a coupon for discount services at the salon. However, when Brown gave a coupon to another client, a note was posted on the register stating, "Great Clips is here to make money and you are making us less money[.]" Id. ¶ 9.

         In August of 2012, a Caucasian coworker called Brown an "angry black woman." Id. ¶ 10. Brown complained to her manager about the incident. On another occasion, Phillips scheduled a dinner for all of the employees. Although Brown was invited to the dinner, she was not told that the employees would be meeting at the salon beforehand. After Brown waited at the restaurant for more than 45 minutes, Phillips and the other employees arrived and laughed at her.

         On or about December 2, 2012, after two employees made transactions under her name, Brown called the general manager, told her about "some of the irregularities at the salon, " and said that she was being discriminated against. Id. ¶ 13. In a document dated December 2, 2012, Phillips stated that Brown had threatened him with discrimination. Thereafter, a posting at the salon indicated that certain matters would be discussed at a meeting between the employees and the owner of Great Clips. Brown then added "EEOC" to the list of topics to be discussed at this meeting. On December 4, 2012, Phillips informed Brown that he would be terminating her employment. Phillips indicated that he felt "backed into a corner" because Brown called Phillips' boss without notifying him first. Id. ¶ 15.

         Brown filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on April 5, 2013. Upon receiving a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC on January 29, 2015, Brown filed suit in this court under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), alleging that Great Clips discriminated against her on the basis of her race, and that she was terminated in retaliation for her discrimination complaints. On March 28, 2016, Great Clips issued subpoenas duces tecum to Brown's previous employers, subsequent employer, and the Virginia Employment Commission ("VEC"). On April 4, 2016, Brown moved to quash these subpoenas. The court held a hearing on the motion via conference call on May 3, 2016. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.


         I. Standing

         Before addressing the merits of Brown's motion, the court must first determine whether she has standing to attempt to quash the subpoenas duces tecum issued by Great Clips to third parties. "Ordinarily, a party does not have standing to challenge a subpoena issued to a nonparty unless the party claims some personal right or privilege in the information sought by the subpoena." United States v. Idema, 118 F.App'x 740, 744 (4th Cir. 2005). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, however, has not decided whether an employee has a sufficient personal right with respect to the information contained in her employment records to confer standing. Nevertheless, this court is more persuaded by the authorities that have held that such personal right does exist.

         At the hearing, Brown relied on Singletary v. Sterling Transport Co., in which the district court found that an employee did have standing to challenge the subpoenas duces tecum that sought employment records from his former employers. 289 F.R.D. 237, 240 (E.D. Va. 2012). In reaching its decision, the district court noted that "numerous courts from within a wide variety of circuits have approved the existence of such a right and have held that such parties have standing to challenge subpoenas directed to their former employers." Id. at 239. The district court also found the case of Barrington v. Mortage IT. Inc., No. 07-61304-CIV, 2007 WL 4370647, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 10, 2007) to be especially persuasive. In Barrington, the district court cited to a number of cases which support the argument that employees have a personal right in their employment records. 2007 WL 4370647, at *2. The district court in Barrington also noted that employment records are/likely to contain "highly personal and confidential information, such as social security numbers, medical information protected from disclosure under various federal and state laws, payroll information, income tax information, and information about family members." Id. Therefore, the district court held that the employees had standing to move to quash the subpoenas duces tecum directed to their former employers. Id. This court notes that several courts both within and outside of the Fourth Circuit have cited to Singletary in finding that employees have standing to challenge subpoenas seeking employment records. See, e.g., Papanicolas v. Project Execution & Control Consulting, LLC, No. CBD-12-1579, 2015 WL 1242755, at *1 (D. Md. Mar. 17, 2015): Bahrami v. Maxie Price Chevrolet-Oldsmobile Inc.. No. 1:11-CV-4483-SCJ-AJB, 2013 WL 3800336, at *2 (N.D.Ga. June 19, 2013); Robinson v. Quicken Loans. Inc.. No. 3:12-CV-00981, 2012 WL 6045836, at *2 (S.D.W.Va. Dec. 5, 2012).

         In addition, even if the court could find that Brown did not have standing to move to quash the subpoenas under Rule 45 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, she would still have standing under Rule 26 to challenge the subpoenas as irrelevant and overbroad. See Singletary. 289 F.R.D. at 240 n.2 ("Additionally, the Court notes that plaintiffs have standing to challenge the subpoenas duces tecum as irrelevant and overbroad under Rule 26, regardless of whether they have standing to bring a motion to quash under Rule 45."); see also Sirpal v. Wang, No. WDQ-12-0365, 2012 WL 2880565, at *4 n.12 (D. Md. Jul. 12, 2012) (construing plaintiffs motion to quash as one for a protective order under Rule 26 and using relevance and overbreath to quash the subpoena at issue). Although Brown has not explicitly moved for a protective order in her instant motion, her essential challenges to the subpoenas are that they are overbroad and irrelevant to the claims and defenses in this case. Accordingly, the court concludes that Brown has standing to bring this motion to quash.

         II. Mo ...

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