California court upholds ruling rejecting worker's request to depose high-level official

Ex-employee alleges violations of Labor Code, PAGA and FEHA

California court upholds ruling rejecting worker's request to depose high-level official

If one wants to depose a high-level official who seeks a protective order to prohibit the deposition, the court should determine whether there is good cause showing that the official has unique or superior personal knowledge of discoverable information, a California court has said.

In the case of Eleni Gavriiloglou v. Prime Healthcare Management, Inc. et al., the plaintiff filed a complaint against her former employer and its alleged alter egos – Prime Healthcare Management, Inc., Prime Healthcare Management II, Inc., Hospital Business Services, Inc., and Dr. Prem Reddy.

She asked for damages for the following violations of California’s Labor Code:

  • failure to provide meal and rest periods under section 226.7;
  • failure to pay overtime under section 510;
  • failure to provide all wages due at termination under section 201;
  • waiting time penalties under section 203;
  • failure to produce an employee file under section 1198.5;
  • misclassification as exempt under section 515;
  • retaliation under section 1102.5;
  • penalties under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA).

Read more: Construction workers are exempt from PAGA in certain cases, court says

The plaintiff also alleged the following breaches of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA): discrimination, harassment, and retaliation; failure to prevent discrimination, harassment, and retaliation; failure to provide reasonable accommodation; failure to engage in the good faith interactive process to determine effective reasonable accommodation; and wrongful termination.

The defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration of the plaintiff’s non-PAGA claims and to stay the litigation of her PAGA claim, given that the plaintiff signed an arbitration agreement as a condition of employment. The trial court compelled her to arbitrate her non-PAGA claims and decided to stay her PAGA claim.

The arbitrator issued a final award in the defendants’ favor upon finding that the alleged Labor Code violations did not happen. The trial court entered judgment in the defendants’ favor. The plaintiff had no standing to bring a PAGA claim since she was not an “aggrieved employee” under the PAGA, the trial court said.

The plaintiff filed a motion to vacate the arbitration award, which the trial court rejected. The plaintiff appealed.

The California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District, Division Two reversed the trial court’s decision. The appellate court ruled that the trial court properly denied the motion to vacate the arbitration award.

Read more: Court says ex-employee who settled individual lawsuit can still file PAGA claim

The plaintiff wanted to depose Dr. Reddy, a high-level official. The arbitrator refused. The appellate court held that the plaintiff failed to establish that the arbitrator’s refusal substantially prejudiced her rights and failed to show that she could not obtain equivalent information through the deposition of lower-level employees or through the organizational deposition of the corporation itself.

The plaintiff also did not show that Dr. Reddy had information necessary to the case, the appellate court added.

While the motion to vacate the arbitration award was properly denied, the appellate court determined that the arbitration did not bar the PAGA claim.

The arbitrator’s findings had no preclusive effect since the plaintiff was acting in different capacities and was asserting different rights, the appellate court explained. In the arbitration, the plaintiff was litigating her own individual right to damages for Labor Code violations. In the present PAGA action, she was litigating the state’s right to statutory penalties for Labor Code breaches.

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