Sexual Harassment Deposition May be Attended by Defendant Representative, Court Rules

In Guillebeaux v. H.E.L.P. Homeless Services Corporation et al, 2020 WL 4731420 (S.D.N.Y. August 14, 2020) – a sexual harassment/hostile work environment case – the court denied plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration of the court’s earlier ruling declining to prevent a representative of defendant from attending the (remote) deposition of plaintiff.

The court provides the following background summary:

On August 7, 2020, the parties began Plaintiff’s remote video deposition. Mr. Lirette, HELP’s Vice President of Human Resources, attended the deposition as HELP’s corporate representative. Plaintiff alleges that she interacts with Mr. Lirette in the course of her employment, although the parties dispute the extent of this interaction. Plaintiff’s counsel states that at the beginning of the deposition he made a general objection to Mr. Lirette’s presence, but ultimately did not seek Court intervention at that time and allowed the deposition to move forward with Mr. Lirette present by video.

Approximately six hours into the deposition, when Plaintiff began testifying about her emotional pain and suffering and the related effects on her mental health, Plaintiff became increasingly uncomfortable with Mr. Lirette’s presence, and began to experience symptoms of a panic attack. Plaintiff’s counsel also became concerned that Mr. Lirette was taking notes while Plaintiff was testifying about her physiological state, and asked Mr. Lirette step out of the deposition for that portion of the testimony.

Defendant’s counsel declined to have Mr. Lirette step out, and the parties called the Court for a ruling on the issue. The Court considered the parties’ arguments and the Court’s clerk called the parties back to inform them of the Court’s ruling that Defendant was entitled to a representative at Plaintiff’s deposition and that the deposition should continue. [Citations omitted.]

Plaintiff now seeks that the court reconsider its ruling and issue an order, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence Rule 615 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure “26(c)(5)”, to exclude Mr. Lirette from Plaintiff’s continued deposition.

The court denied plaintiff’s motion. After outlining the standard for reconsideration per Local Civil Rule 6.3 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) – noting, inter alia, that “[a] motion for reconsideration is not an occasion for repeating old arguments previously rejected nor an opportunity for making new arguments that could have been previously advanced” (and that Federal Rule of Evidence 615 was inapplicable and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c)(5) does not exist) – explained:

The current version of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 grants the Court the authority to issue a protective order for “good cause” to “protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26. Defendants argue that, while discussing the effects of the work environment and sexual harassment may be uncomfortable, these matters are directly at issue in the case and a HELP corporate representative is entitled to be present for such testimony. The Court agrees. Plaintiff is seeking damages for emotional distress and therefore the topic is relevant to her claims and HELP’s defenses. Plaintiff has not alleged that Mr. Lirette said or did anything inappropriate or unprofessional during the prior six hours of her deposition testimony, and therefore has not shown a basis to issue a protective order under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26. [Citations omitted.]

Based on this, the court concluded that since plaintiff “has raised nothing in her request for reconsideration that was not presented to and considered by the Court in its ruling during the deposition,” she “has not met the standard for reconsideration” and therefore denied the motion.

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