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Akridge v. Alfa Mutual Insurance Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

November 8, 2018

JENNIFER AKRIDGE, Plaintiff,
v.
ALFA MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          GRAY M. BORDEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Under consideration are Defendant's Motion for Clarification and/or to Reconsider Court's September 12, 2018 Order (Doc. 94) and Plaintiff's Motion for Court to Order Production Subject to HIPPA [sic] Order (Doc. 102), Renewed Motion Emphasizing Need to Take Scott Forrest's Deposition (Doc. 110), and Motion to Strike Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Renewed Motion Emphasizing Need to Take Scott Forrest's Deposition (Doc. 112).

         I. BACKGROUND

         The discovery process in this lawsuit has been extraordinarily contentious and has been the subject of a number of prior motions, orders, and hearings. For present purposes, the relevant procedural history begins with the motion for summary judgment (Doc. 76) filed by Defendant Alfa Mutual Insurance Company (“Alfa”) on August 20, 2018. In response to the motion, Plaintiff Jennifer Akridge requested additional time for discovery pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d)(2). The court granted this request on September 12, 2018 (Doc. 93), allowing Akridge 30 days within which to conduct a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition of an Alfa representative relating to three discrete subjects:

(1) any impact of the Defendant's financial well-being and medical expenses on its decision to reorganize and automate some employment positions, (2) the extent of the Plaintiff's medical expenses during her employment, and (3) the circumstances surrounding the decision to terminate other employees of the Defendant during the last five years before the Plaintiff's position was eliminated.

Doc. 93 at 5.

         Alfa asked the court to reconsider this decision, and the court convened the parties on October 23, 2018 for oral argument on this and other related issues. Following the hearing, the court issued an order requiring (1) Alfa to disclose in camera certain documents relating to the administration by Blue Cross and Blue Shield (“BCBS”) of Alfa's self-insured employee health care program and (2) Akridge to file documents she received in response to a subpoena she issued to BCBS. Doc. 107. The parties made the relevant submissions on October 25, and the court has reviewed these records along with the pending motions and the responsive briefs.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Alfa's Motion to Reconsider

         Alfa asks the court to reconsider the topics on which it must present a Rule 30(b)(6) representative for deposition. The court finds certain of Alfa's arguments to be well taken. As to the first 30(b)(6) topic, Alfa has argued throughout this litigation that the decisionmakers with respect to Akridge's termination had no knowledge of the extent of her health care costs to Alfa. E.g., Doc. 94 at 1-2. This may be the case, but it does not necessarily mean that the first topic is outside of the scope of Rule 26(b)(1) or immaterial to Akridge's response to the pending motion for summary judgment.

         The first 30(b)(6) subject was an attempt to allow Akridge to probe whether a desire to control health care costs was a driving force behind Alfa's corporate restructuring and, if so, whether that motivation might have infected the decisionmaking process that ultimately resulted in Akridge's termination. Alfa's summary judgment motion confirms that this issue bears at least some relevance to Akridge's claims by advancing the argument that Akridge cannot demonstrate that Alfa's proffered non-discriminatory reason for her termination (the elimination of the position through the corporate restructuring) is pretextual. Doc. 77 at 22-27. The pretext inquiry asks, in large part, whether circumstantial evidence of discrimination renders the employer's reason for the termination “unworthy of credence.” McCann v. Tillman, 526 F.3d 1370, 1375 (11th Cir. 2008). In crafting the first 30(b)(6) topic, the court intended to address one avenue by which circumstantial evidence of discrimination might be present in the decisionmaking process. To the extent the motion for reconsideration rejects that core purpose as irrelevant to the matters at hand, the motion is due to be denied.

         This being said, upon further reflection-and with the benefit of the parties' arguments in their recent filings and during oral argument-the court finds its original formulation of the first Rule 30(b)(6) topic not to have been narrowly tailored to the purpose for which it was intended. A more precise formulation would require Alfa's representative to address (1) whether Alfa's senior management team considered the magnitude of Alfa's employees' medical expenses in the decision to undertake a corporate restructuring; and (2) if the senior management team did consider medical expenses in deciding to restructure, whether any concerns about medical expenses were communicated to the decisionmakers with respect to Akridge's termination and the elimination of her position.

         The second 30(b)(6) topic set forth in the September 12 order related solely to the extent of Akridge's medical costs. During oral argument, however, Akridge's attorney disclosed that he had previously received extensive records from BCBS relating to Akridge's health care. The court has reviewed these documents (Docs. 109-2 to -16), which consist of hundreds of pages of spreadsheets reflecting Akridge's medical expenses and including separate columns for the total cost to Alfa and the out-of-pocket cost to Akridge. In light of this disclosure, requiring testimony related to the second 30(b)(6) topic would be duplicative and disproportional to the needs of the case. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). To the extent the motion for reconsideration seeks the omission of this topic, the motion is due to be granted.

         Finally, the third 30(b)(6) topic related to other termination decisions at Alfa and also was intended to provide Akridge with an opportunity to develop circumstantial evidence of pretext. Alfa nevertheless argues that the topic is overly broad. Alfa originally proposed to limit the relevant terminations to job eliminations within the underwriting department. Doc. 94 at 3. At oral argument, Alfa proposed instead to provide a 30(b)(6) representative with knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the decision to eliminate other positions within the underwriting or marketing departments at Alfa's home office in Montgomery during the last five years before Akridge's position was eliminated. Akridge's counsel agreed to this limitation during the ...


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