Officers’ Personnel Files Discoverable In Discrimination Litigation

Christopher Barella, a white police officer working for the Village of Freeport, New York, sued the Village claiming that the Village’s hiring and promotional processes discriminated on the basis of race. In the course of the litigation, Barella sought disclosure of the personnel files of 24 employees who worked in City departments other than the Police Department. Barella claimed that the personnel files would show that the Village’s Mayor had a pattern and practice of discrimination against white employees.

A federal trial court ordered the disclosure of the files. The Court reasoned that “although these 24 individuals were not employed by the Village Police Department, Barella makes sufficient allegations that he is similarly situated to them because they were all evaluated by the same decision-maker, Mayor Hardwick. For example, the Plaintiff alleges that Hardwick replaced Lou Digrazia, a non-Hispanic White individual, with an African-American, Scott Richardson, for the position of Superintendent of Public Works. The Plaintiff asserts that Digrazia had greater qualifications and job experience than did Richardson. Similarly, Hardwick allegedly replaced Joseph Madigan, another non-Hispanic White person, with Richard Brown, an African-American, for the position of Superintendent of the Buildings Department, despite the fact that Madigan had greater qualifications and experience. Also, Hardwick allegedly replaced Bernadine Quinton, another non-Hispanic White individual, with James Smith, an African-American, for the position of tax assessor, based on improper reasons.

“While Barella does not advance a theory of disparate impact, an individual disparate treatment plaintiff may use statistical evidence to support a disparate treatment claim in an employment discrimination case. Moreover, the purpose of discovery here is, in part, to help identify the universe of proper comparators. Pending discovery, the Court is not in a position to hold that those 24 persons are necessarily improper comparators. Because the 24 personnel records may shed new light on the allegations directed by Barella, the Court does not consider Barella’s discovery request to be unreasonably cumulative and duplicative.

“To be sure, an employer has an interest in maintaining the confidentiality of employee personnel files. However, there is no rigid rule prohibiting discovery of employee personnel files. Indeed, in most cases, a protective order can appropriately remedy privacy concerns arising from discovery of personnel records, and here the order specifically permits the Village to redact personal information from the records demanded, thereby attempting to address the Village’s privacy concerns.”

Barella v. Village of Freeport, 296 F.R.D. 102 (E.D.N.Y. 2013).