Law School Case Brief
Robertson v. People Magazine - 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 168525 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 16, 2015)
Disclosure of nonconfidential editorial documents requires a showing that the materials at issue are of likely relevance to a significant issue in the case and are not reasonably obtainable from other available sources.
Plaintiff Tatsha Robertson, a former senior editor at defendant People Magazine ("People"), filed an action in federal district court against People and defendants Time Inc. and Betsy Gleick, her superior at People, for unlawful race discrimination and harassment in violation of 42 U.S.C.S. § 1981, Title VII, and the New York City Human Rights Law. Robertson alleged that she was subjected to a discriminatory work environment and ultimately terminated due to her race. Robertson filed a motion to compel discovery of documents concerning People's editorial discussions and decisions on articles to be published (or not published). Defendants generally objected to the document requests on grounds of relevance, burden and editorial privilege.
Was Robertson's discovery requests appropriate to the needs of her case?
The court denied Robertson's motion to compel. The court ruled that Robertson's discovery requests were burdensome and disproportionate. Unlike most discrimination cases where discovery was addressed to allegedly discriminatory conduct and/or comments, Robertson sought nearly unlimited access to People's editorial files, including all documents covering the mental process of People staff concerning what would or would not be published in the magazine. Those requests (and others) extended far beyond the scope of Robertson's claims and would significantly burden defendants. In addition, what defendants decided to publish (or not publish) and its editorial decisions (as opposed to its business decisions in personnel hiring, firing, promoting, or demoting) were not relevant to Robertson's claims. Even if documents concerning Defendants' editorial discussions and decisions were relevant, those documents would be protected by a qualified editorial privilege that Robertson failed to overcome.
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