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Court Sustains Objections to Many Requests in Light of Burden Claimed, But Orders Production of Certain Documents in Electronic Format

Posted in CASE SUMMARIES

Bolton v. Sprint/United Mgmt. Co., 2007 WL 756644 (D. Kan. Mar. 8, 2007)

This is an age discrimination case brought by thirteen individual plaintiffs, based upon a corporate reduction-in-force ("RIF") by defendants.  In this decision, the court ruled upon plaintiffs’ motion to compel defendants to produce certain documents, including databases and spreadsheets.  Among other objections, defendants argued that plaintiffs’ persistent demand for information in “native format” and metadata was troubling.  Defendants claimed that the phrase “native format,” as used by plaintiffs, was a misnomer, and in reality it simply meant that “if a document was created in an Excel software program, then it should be produced in Excel format.”  Defendants argued that this type of production implicated issues related to metadata, and that accessing electronic information to produce it in native format may actually destroy information that might otherwise be gleaned from metadata.  In addition, defendants argued that production of metadata would reveal privileged information, and would not be relevant to plaintiffs’ claims.  Finally, defendants argued that it would be difficult and time-consuming to devise a manner of production that would ensure that the information appeared in the same state it existed at the time the document was originally utilized, or to ensure active cells were not changed post-production.  They claimed the burden and risk associated with native production far surpassed the benefits, which were minimal, if any, and which were unarticulated by plaintiffs.

The court considered defendants’ arguments in evaluating plaintiffs’ specific requests, but granted the motion to compel as to certain items.  The court ordered defendants to produce records regarding all employees who were selected for termination, along with databases regarding all employees who were selected for involuntary change in job status.  As to these, the court directed: “Defendants shall produce the requested information in the form in which it is currently maintained, but in electronic format to the extent possible.”  As to other requests, the court was persuaded by the evidence presented by defendants in the form of affidavits of several employees and an attorney involved in production of documents in a related case, who provided specific details regarding the burden associated with certain requests.