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Childers v. General Motors LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

September 26, 2017

DENISE CHILDERS, Plaintiff,
v.
GENERAL MOTORS LLC, Defendant.

          Nancy G. Edmunds, District Judge.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR ENTRY OF A PROTECTIVE ORDER (DE 22)

          ANTHONY P. PATTI, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Denise Childers, a current employee of Defendant General Motors LLC (“GM”), filed her complaint in this action on December 21, 2016, and an amended complaint on December 23, 2016, alleging that Defendant discriminated and retaliated against her on the basis of her race and age in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and failed to make reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12111 et seq. (DE 1, 4.)[1] Plaintiff asks the Court to award compensatory and exemplary, damages, as well as damages for pain and suffering, embarrassment, humiliation, loss of esteem and reputation, and interest, costs and attorney fees.

         I. THE INSTANT MOTION

         This matter is before the Court for consideration of Defendant's Motion for Entry of a Protective Order (DE 22), Plaintiff's response in opposition (DE 25), and Defendant's reply (DE 29). In its motion, Defendant seeks entry of the proposed Protective Order attached as Exhibit 1 to its Motion. (DE 22-2.) Plaintiff is a Senior Auditor in Defendant's Audit Services division, but is currently on a medical leave of absence. According to Defendant, as an Auditor, Plaintiff conducted internal audits within GM to confirm compliance with company policies and regulatory requirements. Plaintiff has had access through her employment to a wide-range of Defendant's documents, correspondence and other property that contain confidential and proprietary information, including Defendant's financial data, audit procedures and audit findings (“Defendant's Confidential Information”). Defendant contends that Plaintiff has produced in her responses to discovery requests numerous documents containing Defendant's Confidential Information, including internal communications, presentations, and memoranda concerning internal audits and projects. Defendant argues that Plaintiff has copied or downloaded Defendant's Confidential Information and that she intends to use this information in the prosecution of her lawsuit. Defendant seeks entry of the proposed Protective Order attached as Exhibit 1 to its motion, which would allow the parties to designate documents, information or tangible things as confidential if the party determines in good faith that it contains personal, proprietary or sensitive business information. (DE 22-2.) The proposed Protective Order further provides that “[a]ny documents or information produced pursuant to a discovery request or used as an exhibit to a deposition may be designated as ‘confidential by the [sic] either party whether such documents were produced prior to or after the entry of this Protective Order.” (Id. ¶ 5.) Defendant asserts this language is necessary to protect Defendant's Confidential Information in Plaintiff's possession or produced by Plaintiff in this matter from unfettered dissemination, but that the proposed Protective Order will still allow Plaintiff to use the documents during the course of this lawsuit.

         Plaintiff counters that Defendant should not be allowed to designate information Plaintiff obtained “outside the discovery process” as confidential. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant's proposed Protective Order would restrict her ability to disseminate information gained from sources other than discovery, and thus improperly infringe upon her First Amendment rights. Plaintiff further argues that, in any event, Defendant has failed to meet its burden to demonstrate that “good cause” exists for entry of a protective order, and specifically fails to explain how disclosure of this information would potentially harm Defendant if disclosed.

         In Defendant's reply, it asserts that it is seeking to protect documents produced by either party during the discovery process that contain Defendant's confidential, proprietary or commercial information, including those documents Plaintiff produced back to Defendant in response to Defendant's discovery requests. Defendant does not seek to designate as “confidential” information or documents that Plaintiff obtains through sources independent of Defendant or from the public record. Defendant notes that the proposed Protective Order does not prevent Plaintiff from using or disclosing any documents in the course of prosecuting her claims in this case. Defendant further contends that good cause exists for entry of the proposed Protective Order because it has demonstrated that the information at issue contains Defendant's sensitive and confidential internal audit information. Thus, Defendant asserts that the proposed Protective Order is reasonable and does not prejudice Plaintiff's ability to pursue her claims in this case.

         II. STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c) provides that for good cause shown, a court may issue an order “to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense, ” including requiring that “confidential research, development, or commercial information not be revealed or be revealed only in a specified way.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1)(G). This Rule confers broad discretion on the trial court to decide when a protective order is appropriate and what degree of protection is required. Seattle Times Co. v. Rhinehart, 467 U.S. 20, 36, 104 S.Ct. 2199, 81 L.Ed.2d 17 (1984). The Court may specify the terms of production, limit disclosure, require that documents be filed under seal, or take any other action that effectuates the purposes of Rule 26(c).

         The party seeking protection bears the burden of demonstrating that there is good cause for restricting the disclosure of the information at issue. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c). For good cause to exist, the party seeking to limit the disclosure of discovery materials must show that specific prejudice or harm will result if no protective order is granted, and the moving party cannot rely on mere conclusory statements. Nix v. Sword, 11 F. App'x 498, 500 (6th Cir. 2001).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. The Proposed Protective Order Properly Seeks to Protect Information Produced During the Discovery Process

         Defendant submitted the proposed Protective Order as Exhibit 1 to its Motion for Entry of a Protective Order. (DE 22-2.) Defendant asserts that it does not seek to obstruct or prevent discovery, production or use of documents in this case. Instead, Defendant seeks entry of a protective order under the provisions of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c) to facilitate discovery while precluding the unfettered dissemination of Defendant's confidential, proprietary or commercial information produced during discovery. Plaintiff contends that Defendant is “stonewall[ing] Plaintiff's discovery efforts” and that Rule 26 does not govern a party's use of information obtained “outside of the discovery process.”

         The proposed Protective Order specifically provides that documents produced or used by either party that contain confidential information may be designated as “confidential.” (DE 22-2, ¶¶ 5.) According to Defendant, this provision was included to address those documents Plaintiff has in her possession as a result of her current employment with Defendant as a Senior Auditor, and that she has produced back to Defendant in response to Defendant's discovery requests, or will produce, which contain Defendant's confidential, proprietary or commercial information. Defendant identified those documents Plaintiff has produced that contain Defendant's Confidential Information, including Defendant's financial data, internal audit procedures ...


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