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Firm can get protective order to keep employee files away from injured worker

June 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Blog

An employer is entitled to a protective order preventing an injured sanitation worker from obtaining its employees’ personnel files, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has ruled.

Yvonne Mitchell lost her left index finger while cleaning a machine at a Flowers Bakery in Montgomery, Alabama, in August 2012, court records show. She then filed a claim for workers compensation benefits with her employer, Philadelphia-based Aramark Management Services L.P.

In the claim, Ms. Mitchell alleged product liability against the company that manufactured the machine, and named a number of people whom she called “co-employees,” who allegedly removed a safety device from the machine, according to records.

Ms. Mitchell requested the names of anyone “responsible for removing a safety device on the subject machine” from the bakery, records show. Aramark objected “to the extent that it was overly broad, unduly burdensome, or sought information that is immaterial, irrelevant, and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”

During a deposition, a bakery employee said five employees — himself included — had been suspended or terminated because they removed safety devices from the machine in the past, or because they knew the safety devices had been removed, records show.

Ms. Mitchell said she was requesting the same information as was discussed in the deposition, along with the personnel files of any employees who might have had something to do with her injury, according to records.

As a result, in March 2014, Aramark filed a motion asking the Montgomery County Circuit Court for a protective order that would keep its personnel files private. However, the court denied the motion, records show.

Aramark then filed a petition asking the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals to direct the circuit court to enter the requested protective order and preclude Ms. Mitchell from obtaining its employees’ personnel files.

The Court of Civil Appeals unanimously granted Aramark’s petition in part on Friday, stating that “once Aramark challenged its obligation to produce all or any portions of its employees’ personnel files,” Ms. Mitchell was required to specify why the files met the “rule-of-reason test before the trial court could properly order Aramark to produce those files or any portion of those files,” according to the ruling.

“The trial court exceeded its discretion in summarily ordering Aramark to produce the requested personnel files,” the ruling states.

And to ensure that Ms. Mitchell only obtains relevant portions of Aramark’s employee personnel files, the Court of Civil Appeals ruled that the Montgomery Circuit Court should first determine which documents to remove, or which portions should be redacted, “to prevent disclosure of irrelevant, sensitive, confidential, or private information” of other employees.

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