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Bethea v. Access Bank

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

April 19, 2018

NATHANIEL D. BETHEA, an individual; Plaintiff,
v.
ACCESS BANK, a Nebraska bank; Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Cheryl R. Zwart United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Nathaniel Bethea alleges the following claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, et seq., against Defendant Access Bank: 1) employment discrimination based on religion; 2) failure to accommodate a religious practice; and 3) retaliation for requesting an employment accommodation. (Filing No. 1).

         Plaintiff argues his religious practices preclude him from working during the Sabbath, which he defines as weekly occurring from Friday nightfall through the following Saturday. (Filing No. 39-2 at CM/ECF p. 72). Plaintiff claims he requested an accommodation from his former employer-Access Bank-that would excuse him from working Saturday shifts in order to observe the Sabbath. He further alleges that he was denied that accommodation and was instead terminated as an employee based on his request. Defendant Access Bank denies that Plaintiff's termination was result of his religious practices or his request for an accommodation. (Filing No. 5).

         Currently, this matter is before the court on Defendant's Motion to Compel. (Filing No. 34). Defendant requests an order compelling Plaintiff to produce documents responsive to Defendant's Requests for Production Nos. 23 and 24. (Id.). Defendant requests “all documents reflecting any purchases made by you between December 8, 2015 and the present that occurred between 5 p.m. on a Friday and 12 a.m. on a Sunday” and “all documents, including but not limited to text messages or emails with clients or potential clients, reflecting any real estate showing that you attended from January 1, 2016 to present[.]” (Id.). Defendant claims this information is relevant to whether Plaintiff's purported religious belief is “sincerely held, ” as required by statute. (Filing No. 35). Plaintiff responds that the information sought is irrelevant, overbroad, and seeks to improperly evaluate his religious convictions. (Filing No. 38 at CM/ECF p. 3).

         For the following reason, the court will grant Defendant's motion.

         ANALYSIS

         Generally speaking, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow for discovery of “any unprivileged matter that is relevant to a party's claim or defense.” Gov't of Ghana v. ProEnergy Servs., LLC, 677 F.3d 340, 344 (8th Cir. 2012) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1)). And relevancy, for the purposes of discovery, encompasses “any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matters that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case.” Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978). “[R]elevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” WWP, Inc. v. Wounded Warriors Family Support, Inc., 628 F.3d 1032, 1039 (8th Cir. 2011) (internal citation omitted).

         The party seeking discovery “must make ‘[s]ome threshold showing of relevance . . . before parties are required to open wide the doors of discovery and to produce a variety of information which does not reasonably bear upon the issues in the case.'” Prism Techs., LLC v. Adobe Sys., Inc., 284 F.R.D. 448, 449 (D. Neb. 2012) (quoting Hofer v. Mack Trucks, Inc., 981 F.2d 377, 380 (8th Cir.1992)). “[D]iscovery is not permitted where no need is shown, or compliance would be unduly burdensome, or where harm to the person from whom discovery is sought outweighs the need of the person seeking discovery of the information.” Miscellaneous Docket Matter No. 1 v. Miscellaneous Docket Matter No. 2, 197 F.3d 922, 925 (8th Cir. 1999) (internal citation omitted).

         I. Relevancy

         As outlined above, Defendant is required to establish that its document requests are reasonably targeted to obtain materials that bear on one of the claims or defenses raised in the case. Oppenheimer, 437 U.S. at 351.

         Plaintiff's claims for religious discrimination and failure to accommodate share the necessary element that Plaintiff hold a “bona fide religious belief that conflicts with an employment requirement…[.]” Ollis v. HearthStone Homes, Inc., 495 F.3d 570, 575 (8th Cir. 2007) (citing Seaworth v. Pearson, 203 F.3d 1056, 1057 (8th Cir.2000)).

         A religious belief is “bona fide” if the plaintiff establishes that it is both religious and “sincerely held.” E.E.O.C. v. JBS USA, LLC, No. 8:10CV318, 2013 WL 6621026, at *16 (D. Neb. Oct. 11, 2013). Put differently, “if the religious beliefs…are not sincerely held, there has been no showing of a religious observance or practice that conflicts with an employment requirement.” E.E.O.C. v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., No. 4:08CV1470JCH, 2009 WL 3517578, at *3 (E.D. Mo. Oct. 26, 2009) (emphasized added).

         Here, Defendant contests whether Plaintiff's religious belief in observation of the Sabbath is sincerely held, and it seeks discovery probative of that contention.

         As correctly noted by Plaintiff, it would be improper for the court to evaluate the truth, logic, or reasonableness of Plaintiff's religious beliefs. (Filing No. 38 at CM/ECF pp. 2-3). But, the court here makes no such determination. The court need not-and should not-evaluate the substance of Plaintiff's professed religious practices. Fowler v. Rhode Island,345 U.S. 67, 70 (1953). However, it is entirely ...


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