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The burden is upon a party seeking a protective order to show good cause by demonstrating harm or prejudice that will result from discovery. If a court finds particularized harm will result from disclosure of information to the public, then it balances the public and private interests to decide whether a protective order is necessary. An appellate court may not overturn a protective order simply because the appellate court might have weighed differently the various interests and equities; instead, the appellate court must ascertain whether the order was contrary to law.
Plaintiffs Martha Rivera, Mao Her et al., were Latina and Southeast Asian female immigrants once employed as production workers at defendant NIBCO's factory in California. Although their job descriptions did not require English proficiency, defendant required them to take basic job skills examinations given only in English where plaintiffs performed poorly on the exams. Defendant allegedly responded with a range of adverse employment consequences. Eventually, all plaintiffs were terminated. Plaintiffs requested and received right-to-sue letters from the EEOC and California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Subsequently, they filed an action in federal court, alleging disparate impact discrimination based on national origin in violation of Title VII and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. This interlocutory appeal arose out of a discovery dispute in the above action. During the deposition of plaintiff Martha Rivera. The plaintiffs thereafter terminated the deposition and then filed for a protective order against further questions pertaining to immigration status. Their request was predicated on the claim additional questioning would have a chilling effect on their pursuit of their workplace rights. The magistrate judge presiding over discovery issued a protective order barring discovery concerning the immigration status of the employees. Defendant filed a motion under FED. R. CIV. P. 72(a), requesting that the district court reconsider the magistrate's ruling but was denied. It subsequently filed a motion to certify the discovery ruling for interlocutory appeal and argued that recent case law established that undocumented employees were not entitled to reinstatement, front pay, and back pay, and thus the employees' immigration status was clearly relevant. The district court issued an interlocutory order which upheld the magistrate judge's protective order, defendant appealed.
Did the court err in upholding the protective order issued by the magistrate judge?
The order upholding the magistrate judge's protective order was affirmed. The appellate court held that preclusion of discovery concerning the immigration status of the plaintiffs was warranted to avoid chilling the plaintiffs' interests in effectuating their employment rights and the public interest in abolishing workplace discrimination. The court held that it was questionable whether undocumented employees were precluded from certain remedies in discrimination cases but, in any event, plaintiffs’ entitlement to remedies did not affect the determination of whether defendant engaged in discrimination. Further, other remedies remained available to plaintiffs and immigration information could be obtained when it became relevant. The case was then remanded for further proceedings.