Court Addresses Discovery Relating to Emotional Distress Damages in Title VII Discrimination Case

In Morales v. PepsiCo. Inc., 16-cv-6597, 2018 WL 3853390 (W.D.N.Y. August 14, 2018), the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against his former employer alleging race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York State Human Rights Law. Not uncommonly, a discovery dispute arose. Among other issues contested by the parties, they disagreed as to how much information plaintiff was required to turn over in connection with his claim for emotional distress damages.

Generally, emotional distress damages are categorized as – with correspondingly increasing “value” – (1) garden variety, (2) significant, and (3) egregious.

The court resolved the discovery issue by reference to the type of emotional distress damages plaintiff is seeking:[1]Paragraphing added.

To the extent that Morales seeks damages for non-garden variety emotional distress, I agree with defendant that any medical records reflecting mental health treatment provided to Morales to address such distress would be relevant and discoverable. See E.E.O.C. v. Nichols Gas & Oil, Inc., 256 F.R.D. 114 (W.D.N.Y. 2009). In this context, “garden variety” refers to claims for compensation for nothing more than the distress that any healthy, well-adjusted person would likely feel as a result of the challenged actions. See id. at 121.

If Morales is seeking more severe emotional distress damages than “garden-variety” distress damages, he must provide defendant’s counsel, on or before September 10, 2018, an authorization permitting his mental health treatment provider to release his medical records to defendant.

If Morales agrees that his claim for emotional damages is limited to a garden variety claim, he must submit to the Court, on or before September 10, 2018, a sworn affidavit attesting to the following representations:

1. He understands that his claim for emotional distress damages is limited to “garden variety” emotional distress damages, meaning nothing more than the distress that any healthy, well-adjusted person would likely feel as a result of the challenged actions;

2. He will not claim at trial that he suffered severe emotional distress or a diagnosed mental health condition;

3. He will not offer at trial any psychological or medical testimony or records to support his claims of emotional distress, including his own testimony that he sought treatment from a mental health professional; and,

4. He withdraws any prior claim for physical injury or non-garden variety emotional distress damages.

The court further denied, without prejudice, defendant’s request for “an order compelling Morales to sit for another deposition in the event that relevant information and documents are produced by Morales or obtained by defendant pursuant to any releases provided by Morales in accordance with this Order,” and permitted defendant to renew if it “obtains specific additional information that defendant can demonstrate justifies additional deposition testimony from Morales.”

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1. Paragraphing added.