Court Applies Amended Discovery Rule to Discovery Demands Seeking Information Relating to Claimed Emotional Distress in Age Discrimination Case

A recent decision, Kelly v. Times/Review Newspapers Corp., 14-cv-2995, 2016 WL 2901744 (E.D.N.Y. May 18, 2016), illustrates how courts are applying the newly-amended Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in employment cases.

In this employment discrimination case, plaintiff “seeks compensatory damages, alleging that he suffered actual anguish, embarrassment, suffering, and humiliation as result of his wrongful involuntary termination of employment.” While plaintiff initially sought only “garden variety” emotional distress damages, he later sought “substantial” emotional distress damages.

Defendant, in turn, sought various items in discovery, including medical records and a physical exam of plaintiff under FRCP 35.

The court summarized the provisions of (newly-amended) Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1):

Rule 26(b)(1) provides for discovery of relevant information that is “proportional” to the needs of the case considering the importance of the issues at stake, the amount in controversy, the parties’ relative access to information, the parties’ resources, the importance of the discovery to resolving the issue, and whether the burden of production outweighs the likely benefit. Consistent with these standards, where a plaintiff has put his medical condition at issue, discovery of relevant medical records may be warranted. However, in the emotional distress context, a claim limited to “garden variety” damages will not generally operate to require production of medical records.

For example, defendants’ request for “all documents concerning Plaintiff’s marital therapy without time restriction” was “disproportional to the needs of the case and would include producing documents that could be decades old and therefore of extremely limited relevance.”

Defendants’ request for “documents concerning any treatment by any mental health professional over the last 30 years” was “disproportionate to the needs of this case as it seeks documents that may be wholly irrelevant, and therefore of extremely limited value to resolving the issues in this action.”

The court did, however, order production of requested pharmacy records for prescribed medications (but for a limited time frame), and information concerning payment for his daughter’s education (reasoning that “it is reasonable to consider payment for a child’s education as a potential stressor unrelated to Defendant’s conduct”).

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