Flores v. Dibenedeto
To obtain tax returns in discovery, a party may be required to prove that a compelling need exists, because the information is not freely available elsewhere, and that the tax information is pertinent. The plaintiffs sued the defendants, alleging that they violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 United States Code §201. During discovery, the defendants requested that the plaintiff employees confirm that they are full U.S. citizens. The plaintiffs requested a court protective order and objected that their U.S. citizenship is not pertinent, because the FLSA covers workers regardless of U.S. citizenship. The defendants argued that evidence about U.S. citizenship, or lack thereof, might explain the lack of written records and affect the jury's assessment of the plaintiffs' credibility. "[T]he opportunity to assess the credibility of a party does not outweigh the chilling effect that disclosure of immigration status has on employees seeking to enforce their rights," pursuant to Rengifo v. Erevos Enterprises Inc., a 2007 decision of the Southern District of New York. The court granted the plaintiffs' motion for a protective order concerning the plaintiffs' U.S. citizenship. "[T]he issue of the plaintiffs' credibility," wrote the court, "does not outweigh the chilling effect that disclosure of immigration status has on enforcing their rights." The defendants also requested that the plaintiff employees produce tax returns, and the plaintiffs objected that their tax returns were not pertinent and that the defendants failed to prove that a compelling need existed, because the information is not available elsewhere. The court granted the plaintiffs' request for a protective order, because the defendants failed to prove a compelling need. Finally, the defendants requested that the plaintiff employees produce their Social Security numbers. The plaintiffs objected that this constituted a "back door" attempt to obtain information about the plaintiffs' citizenship. The court granted the plaintiffs' request for a protective order, to bar the defendants from requiring the production of the plaintiffs' Social Security numbers.