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Paul Zimmerman

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The PAGA Saga: Expanded Discovery Rights for Plaintiffs

The scope of discovery just got a bit broader in cases brought under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004. In so-called PAGA actions – by which an employee may pursue a private right of action on behalf of himself/herself and aggrieved third parties against an employer to collect penalties for particular labor violations – an employer is now generally compelled to produce the contact information of all its employees when asked for such information by an employee plaintiff. Such was the recent ruling in Williams v. Superior Court, in which the California Supreme Court determined that the latitude for discovery in PAGA actions is essentially the same as that in class actions.

While employers, including those in the hospitality space, might be taken aback by what seems to be a potentially burdensome expansion of discovery rights, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Williams may be much ado about nothing. That’s because holding employers accountable to furnish the contact information of individuals a PAGA plaintiff purports to represent is really no different than the well-established discovery obligations of employers in wage and hour class actions. And the very same defenses to such discovery that exist in those class actions also exist in PAGA claims (e.g., defenses premised on undue burden and the need to protect employee privacy rights).

With the precedent set in Williams, PAGA plaintiffs seeking to discover facts in support of their claims may avail themselves to the names and contact information of other potentially aggrieved parties – no doubt an inconvenience for employers. Indeed, the Williams case seems to expose PAGA actions for what they are – class actions in disguise – and in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, allegedly wronged employees have the means to fish for similarly situated current or former coworkers by way of more liberal discovery rights. To employers facing PAGA lawsuits, be prepared for the interrogatories and production requests to come.

This blog post is not offered as, and should not be relied on as, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.