What is discovery in an employment an employment discrimination case?
Perhaps the most important, and certainly the most time-consuming, part of a court case is what's called the discovery period. The information you obtain during discovery will likely make or break your case.
Discovery definedThe discovery stage occurs before a trial and it's the period in which the parties (you as the plaintiff; your employer as the defendant) exchange information related to your discrimination claim and your employment.
The legal definition of discovery says that parties may get information regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to either party's claim or defense, consistent with the following factors:
the "proportional to the needs of the case";
the "importance of the issues at stake" in the case;
the amount of money at issue;
"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"
In plain English, the discovery period is your opportunity to gather the facts and information you need to prove to a jury that your employer discriminated against you or harassed you.
Different discovery methodsThis exchange of information is governed by specific rules, and the three most common types of discovery methods are:
requests for production of documents
A deposition is where your attorney may question your supervisors, colleagues, and other relevant witnesses under oath about your claims. Likewise, your employer's lawyers will be able to depose you and the witnesses you identify who have information about your case.
Interrogatories are written questions that must be answered under oath and usually ask for information you have about specific allegations in your complaint and witnesses who may have knowledge of your claims.
Requests for production of documents allow you to ask for, among other things, documents (paper and electronically stored information) that are in your employer's possession, custody, or control, which relate to your discrimination claim.
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure limit the amount of discovery that can be requested. For example, each side can usually take 10 depositions in federal court, and depositions cannot last longer than seven (7) hours.
Similarly, each party is usually limited to 25 interrogatories in federal court. But you should always check the local rules of the particular court in which your lawsuit is filed as these rules may have additional discovery limits and requirements.
Common discovery requestsIn an employment discrimination lawsuit, the parties will seek a variety of information from each other. Some of the more common examples of information your employer/defendant will ask for are:
any complaints you made internally or externally to, for example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC);
any witnesses (colleagues, friends, family, etc.) with whom you talked about the discrimination;
a detailed explanation of the discrimination and/or harassment you suffered;
any documents you have that support your claim;
information about the damages you've suffered (back pay (loss of pay); emotional distress damages, etc.)
Employees/plaintiffs similarly pursue information on a range of topics, including:
your personnel file (including performance evaluations, pay information, etc.);
how your coworkers (similarly situated employees) have been treated by the employer;
other complaints of discrimination lodged against the employer;
any investigation the employer conducted regarding the discrimination complaint;
emails, memos, and other communications regarding your complaint;
defenses your employer will assert and the identification of relevant witnesses
Each case is unique and the examples above are a small subset of the universe of information that will likely be sought during your lawsuit.