United States: California Supreme Court: Statewide Employee Contact Info Generally Discoverable In PAGA Actions

Last Updated: July 27 2017
Article by Michael L. Banks and John Battenfeld

California's Supreme Court holds that representative plaintiffs in PAGA actions brought in state court on behalf of California employees are generally entitled to discovery of statewide employee contact information as an "essential first step" to the prosecution of the case.

On July 13, the California Supreme Court issued its decision in Williams v. Superior Court regarding the permissible scope of interrogatories seeking statewide employee contact information in a representative action pursuant to the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). The court held that, in general, contact information for all employees claimed to be aggrieved in a PAGA lawsuit is discoverable—the same as in class actions. As the court explained, "We recognize that in a particular case there may be special reason to limit or postpone a representative plaintiff's access to contact information for those he or she seeks to represent, but the default position is that such information is within the proper scope of discovery, an essential first step to prosecution of any representative action."1

In reaching its decision, the court rejected the lower court's view that the plaintiff should first "show[] some merit to the underlying litigation" before receiving contact information for all the defendant's employees in the state. The court reasoned that because employee contact information in a class action lawsuit is "routinely discoverable. . .without any requirement that the plaintiff first show good cause," the same rule should apply in PAGA lawsuits as well.2 "Nothing in the characteristics of a PAGA suit. . .affords a basis for restricting discovery more narrowly."3

In addition to recognizing that there may be a special reason to limit or postpone access to contact information in a particular case, the court also held that to protect the privacy interests of the other employees, a court should condition the production of their contact information on the employees first being provided

  • notice of the action,
  • an assurance that they are under no obligation to talk to plaintiff's counsel, and
  • an opportunity to opt out of having their contact information disclosed to plaintiff's counsel by returning a postcard, as was required in the class action context in Belaire-West Landscape, Inc. v. Sup. Ct.4


Plaintiff Williams, who worked at one retail location of the defendant, sued under PAGA on behalf of himself and all of the company's nonexempt California employees. His complaint alleged that, on a companywide basis, the defendant violated California meal and rest break, wage payment, wage statement, and business expense reimbursement laws.

Williams served interrogatories seeking, among other things, the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of all of the company's current and former nonexempt employees in California during the relevant time period. The defendant objected to this statewide discovery, and the trial court ordered it to be limited to the single store where Williams worked. The court conditioned discovery of contact information as to other California stores on Williams sitting for his deposition and showing some merit to his claims. The plaintiff appealed, and the court of appeal affirmed the trial court, but the California Supreme Court reversed.

The California Supreme Court's Holding

PAGA Plaintiffs Are Presumptively Entitled to All Relevant Employee Contact Information

The court first reasoned that, pursuant to the Civil Discovery Act, a civil litigant's right to discovery is broad and "includes an entitlement to learn 'the identity and location of persons having knowledge of any discoverable matter.'"5 Therefore, Williams was presumptively entitled to obtain the identity and contact information of his fellow employees unless the defendant could establish cause to refuse to provide the information. The court then rejected all of the defendant's objections.

Nothing about the Nature of PAGA Changes the Fact that Contact Information Is Within the Legitimate Scope of Discovery

The court ruled that the request for statewide contact information was not overbroad because it merely sought to "identify [the defendant's] other California employees, inferentially as a first step to identifying other aggrieved employees and obtaining admissible evidence of the violations and policies alleged in the Complaint."

While recognizing that "in a particular case there may be special reason to limit or postpone a representative plaintiff's access to contact information for those he or she seeks to represent," the court found that the "default position" is that the discovery of such contact information is proper in a PAGA representative action. The court rejected the defendant's argument that under PAGA an employee must have some modicum of proof before proceeding with discovery, because a "PAGA-specific heightened proof standard" as a threshold to discovery would undercut the statute's legislative purpose.

The court also rejected the argument that discovery in a PAGA action should be distinguished from class action discovery. Although PAGA and class actions are procedurally distinct, the court ruled that their similarities and overlapping policy considerations support extending PAGA discovery as broadly as class action discovery.

Unless There Is Evidence of Undue Burden, a PAGA Plaintiff May Obtain Statewide Contact Information

The court rejected the defendant's argument that producing the contact information for approximately 16,500 employees would be unduly burdensome without a prior showing that Williams or others had been subject to Labor Code violations. The court noted that the defendant submitted no evidence that responding to the interrogatory would be unduly burdensome. Even when there is such evidence, the court noted that trial courts should consider alternatives such as partial disclosure or shifting of costs before completely denying discovery.

The court found that it was improper to impose a "good cause" requirement as a prerequisite to answering an interrogatory seeking employee contact information—even if the PAGA plaintiff lacks personal knowledge as to how prevalent the purported violations may be. The court noted that a good cause showing is required for document requests but not interrogatories. The court also noted that California law allows a court on a showing of "good cause" to "establish the sequence and timing of discovery for the convenience of the parties and witnesses and in the interests of justice," but that issue had not been raised with the trial court.


Finally, the court found that the discovery of contact information should not be denied on privacy grounds. The court agreed that absent employees do have a bona fide interest in the confidentiality of their contact information, but they lack a reasonable expectation of privacy in the context of a PAGA action because they would not expect that their contact information would be withheld from a plaintiff seeking to prove labor law violations and recover civil penalties on their behalf. Therefore, the court held that employee privacy interests can and should be addressed by conditioning discovery of contact information on issuing a so-called "Belaire-West notice" to employees. The court also authorized trial courts to supplement such a notice with a protective order prohibiting disclosure of the contact information outside the confines of the specific lawsuit.


In light of the court's holding, employers facing PAGA lawsuits in state court will have limited options to try to prevent the presumptive right to statewide contact information. One option is to make an early request to sequence or phase discovery pursuant to Code Civ. Proc. § 2019.020. Another option is to present evidence of the undue burden of producing statewide employee contact information.


1 Williams v. Superior Court (Marshalls of CA, LLC), __ Cal.5th __ (Jul. 13, 2017).

2 Id., at 1-2.

3 Id.

4 (2007) 149 Cal. App. 4th 554

5 Code Civ. Proc. § 2017.010.  

This article is provided as a general informational service and it should not be construed as imparting legal advice on any specific matter.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.