In 2007, the California Supreme Court held in Pioneer Electronics (USA), Inc. v. Superior Court (2007) 40 Cal.4th 360, that a trial court has the discretion to authorize a pre-certification communication to members of a putative class in a consumer case, informing the putative class members that their names and addresses would be released to the attorneys for the putative class unless they affirmatively objected. Pioneer Electronics was quickly applied to a wage and hour case in Belaire-West Landscape, Inc. v. Superior Court (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 554.
Since Belaire-West, there have been several cases strengthening the right to discovery and access to witnesses in class actions. The latest: Alch v. Superior Court (2008) 165 Cal.App.4th 1412, involving subpoenas to third parties. The need for balancing of privacy rights is not a sufficient ground to prevent plaintiffs from access to data necessary to their attempt to prove their case, and a statistical study need not be proven valid in advance simply because the underlying data is subject to privacy claims.
Television writers filed class action lawsuits against studios, networks, production companies and talent agencies, asserting an industry-wide pattern and practice of age discrimination. The writers served subpoenas on third parties, including the Writers Guild of America, seeking data on Writers Guild members from which they could prepare a statistical analysis to support their claims of age discrimination. A privacy notice was sent to 47,000 Writers Guild members, advising them of their right to object to disclosure of personal information on privacy grounds. Some 7,700 individuals filed objections. The writers moved to overrule the objections. The trial court sustained the objections in their entirety. The writers sought a writ directing the trial court to vacate its order and allow access to certain of the requested information, arguing the information was critical to proving their claims and privacy concerns were minimal. We grant the writ petition.
Thus, notwithstanding the privacy objections of the members, the plaintiffs get work history information and demographic data. You can download the full text of Alch here in PDF or MS Word format. A petition for review was denied.