Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Ex Parte Contacts with Employees of Represented Corporation
A new decision in this developing area of law holds that plaintiffs' counsel may contact non-supervisory employees of the defendant company that is represented by counsel in a Title VII action in federal court. The case is Smith v. United Salt Corp, USDC W.D. Va. (Sept. 9. 2009). The defendant argued that Lewis v. CSX Transp. Inc., 202 F.R.D. 464 (W. D. Va. 2001) is controlling and that such employee's are "off limits" for ex parte contacts by plaintiff's counsel. Plaintiffs counsel relied in part on Cmt.  to Va. R. Prof. Conduct 4.2 which indicates that employees that cannot bind the employer or who are outside the "control group" are not regarded as "represented" by counsel for the employer. Judge Sargent ruled that statements by non-supervisory employees in a Title VII case do not bind the employer and cannot be used as admissions or impute liability to the employer. The employer is subject to vicarious liability only for acts of supervisory personnel. Applying both Rule 4.2 and Fed. R. Evid 801 (d)(2)(D), Judge Sargent held that the ex parte contacts are not prohibited.