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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Akebono Brake Corp.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

March 15, 2018

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff,
Akebono Brake Corporation, Defendant. Akebono Brake Corporation, Third-Party Plaintiff,
Carolina Personnel Services, Inc., and Carolina Industrial Staffing, Inc., Successor in Interest for Carolina Personnel Services, Inc. Third-Party Defendants.


          Shiva V. Hodges United States Magistrate Judge.

         This religious discrimination employment case was brought by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) based on a charge of discrimination filed by Clintoria Burnett (“Burnett”) against Akebono Brake Corporation (“Akebono”) pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”). The case comes before the court on the EEOC's motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 37, to compel Akebono entry onto its West Columbia, South Carolina, facility (“Facility”) for the purposes of inspection and videotaping (“Request for Entry”). [ECF No. 73]. The motion having been fully briefed [ECF Nos. 75 and 79], it is ripe for disposition. All pretrial proceedings in this case were referred to the undersigned pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.). For the reasons that follow, the court grants in part and denies in part the EEOC's motion to compel.

         I. Procedural History

         Burnett alleges she was hired by staffing agency Carolina Personnel Services (“CPS”) for a job with Akebono. [ECF Nos. 14 at ¶¶ 38; 19 at ¶6]. The EEOC alleges Akebono revoked the offer of employment to Burnett after being informed of her religious belief prohibiting her from wearing pants. [ECF No. 19 at ¶¶ 41, 48]. As a defense, Akebono argues that Burnett's request for accommodation by being permitted to wear skirts in lieu of pants at the Facility was unreasonable and would have created an undue hardship. [ECF No. 72 at 10]. It maintains in its response to the EEOC's interrogatories that accommodation would have been “unreasonable due to the nature of Akebono's business and specifically the work performed at the West Columbia Akebono location.” [ECF No. 73-6 at 10]. It claims that “[i]ndividuals wearing loose clothing present a safety risk as their clothing may get caught in the machinery, causing serious injury to the individual.” Id.

         The EEOC previously served on Akebono a broader request for entry upon land for inspection and other purposes on October 13, 2017. [ECF No. 73-8]. Akebono objected to the EEOC's request as unduly speculative, prejudicial, inadmissible, unduly burdensome, overly broad, unreasonable as to time and manner, subject to confidentiality concerns, and intended for the purposes of intrusion, harassment, and increasing the costs of litigation. [ECF No. 73-9]. On December 7, 2017, the court held a telephone conference to address the discovery dispute and denied the EEOC's motion to compel without prejudice to a more narrowly-circumscribed inspection request. [ECF No. 61]. The EEOC subsequently served Akebono with the Request for Entry on December 27, 2017, that requested access to fewer areas of the Facility. [ECF No. 73-10]. Akebono objected to the EEOC's Request for Entry on January 26, 2018, for reasons similar to those given in response to the earlier, broader request. [ECF No. 73-11]. The court again addressed the discovery dispute during a telephone conference on February 7, 2018, and granted the EEOC leave to file a motion to compel. [ECF No. 67]. The EEOC filed the instant motion on February 20, 2018. [ECF No. 73 at 1-2]. In the motion, the EEOC requests that it be permitted to enter, inspect and videotape: (1) areas of the Facility where “the position described by [Akebono Safety Manager] Tom Stanfield in his deposition as ‘washer inspection' is performed”[1]; (2) areas where employees of CPS were placed to perform general assembly positions during the period from October 28, 2014, through October 31, 2014[2]; and (3) all walkways to and from the locations in (1) and (2).[3] Id.

         II. Discussion

         A. Legal Standard

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(a),

A party may serve on any other party a request within the scope of Rule 26(b) . . . (2) to permit entry onto designated land or other property possessed or controlled by the responding party, so that the requesting party may inspect, measure, survey, photograph, test, or sample the property or any designated object or operation on it.

         A party seeking discovery may move for an order compelling inspection if an adverse party “fails to respond that inspection will be permitted-or fails to permit inspection-as required under Rule 34.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B)(iv).

         The party seeking discovery must establish its relevancy and proportionality. Accolla v. Speedway, LLC, No. 0:17-1972-JMC, 2017 WL 5523040, at *2 (D.S.C. Nov. 17, 2017) (citing Wilson v. Decibels of Or., Inc., No. 1:16-855-CL, 2017 WL 1943955, at *2 (D. Or. May 9, 2017)). Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1)states:

Unless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery is as follows: Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

Id. The court must limit the frequency or extent of discovery if it determines that:

(i) the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or can be obtained from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive;
(ii) the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity to obtain the information by ...

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