Blank v. Sullivan & Cromwell – Case Brief Summary
Summary of Blank v. Sullivan & Cromwell, 16 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 87 (S.D.N.Y. 1976).
Blank (P) and other female law school graduates were denied employment by Sullivan & Cromwell (D). Blank brought this lawsuit alleging that they were not offered associate positions due to sex discrimination. Blank sought to discover information regarding the firm’s policies and practices in advancing associates to partnership status.
Sullivan & Cromwell refused to answer the interrogatories and Blank entered a motion under FRCP 37 to compel the firm to comply. The magistrate denied the Rule 37 motion on the grounds that the firm’s answers to the interrogatories were not relevant and therefore not admissible as evidence. The court agreed and Blank moved for a rehearing and modification of the denial order.
In an employment sex discrimination lawsuit involving employment at a certain level of the labor hierarchy, are an employer’s advancement policies and practices regarding a different level of the labor hierarchy discoverable?
Holding and Rule
Yes. In an employment sex discrimination action involving employment at a certain level of the labor hierarchy, an employer’s advancement policies and practices regarding a different level of the labor hierarchy are reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence and are therefore discoverable.
Under FRCP 26, information sought in discovery must be at least reasonably calculated to lead to discovery of admissible evidence. Information may be obtained through discovery even if it would not be admissible at trial for lack of relevance.
The Supreme Court and the Second Circuit have held that general information regarding an employer’s labor hierarchy may illustrate discriminatory hiring practices that are restrictive or exclusionary. Even if Title VII does not apply to partnership positions, the law firm’s practices may have probative bearing upon allegations of discrimination in associate hiring. Evidence of sexual bias at the partnership level may reflect a similar pattern of associate hiring where Title VII is applicable.
Sullivan & Cromwell is directed to answer the interrogatories.
See Sibbach v. Wilson & Co. for a civil procedure case brief in which the United States Supreme Court held that a procedural rule that affects a substantial and important right does not necessarily exceed the Court’s rulemaking authority under the Rules Enabling Act.