Even as Paycom CEO Chad Richison advocated for airline-travel restrictions in Oklahoma to reduce COVID-19 spread, the $22 billion tech company was simultaneously trying to force a former employee to travel from New York to Oklahoma for a deposition, even though New York then led the nation in viral infections.
In a public letter sent to Gov. Kevin Stitt on March 22, 2020, Richison proposed a state government “plan of action” to “battle the deadly COVID-19 virus.”
In the “interest of winning the battle against this virus and saving the lives of our fellow Oklahomans,” Richison called for several actions, including implementation of a ban on “all non-essential travel from Oklahoma airports.”
At the same time, Paycom was engaged in litigation with former employee Brian Boodoosingh that included the company’s demand that Boodoosingh travel from New York to Oklahoma.
Paycom sued Boodoosingh in December 2017, alleging Boodoosingh violated provisions of an “employee confidentiality, non-disparagement and non-disclosure” agreement signed as an employee of a Paycom branch in New York state. That lawsuit has yet to be resolved in Oklahoma court.
On Feb. 11, 2020, as part of that litigation, Paycom filed a notice to take a deposition of Boodoosingh on March 4, 2020—and demanded that Boodoosingh travel from New York to Oklahoma for the deposition.
On March 3, 2020, an attorney for Boodoosingh filed a response objecting to the request, calling it a “surprise deposition notice” that was filed “without any prior notice, let alone attempt by Plaintiff to work out a mutually agreeable time and location for Defendant’s deposition.”
Boodoosingh’s attorney also argued that Paycom should pay for Boodoosingh’s travel and lodging if Paycom “insists on deposing Defendant here in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.”
Paycom’s demand for Boodoosingh to travel to Oklahoma came even as COVID-19 cases were rapidly escalating in New York, and the insistence on Boodoosingh’s travel reportedly came after an extended period involving little activity in the case. That point was stressed by Boodoosingh’s attorney in a filing, which said the Paycom lawsuit “has now been on file for 27 months and has been relatively dormant for the several months” prior to the deposition request.
In a March 3, 2020 email sent to a Paycom attorney, Boodoosingh’s attorney asked, “Why, after all this time, is your client suddenly so hell-bent on taking my client’s deposition in March?”
The March 3 filing also noted that as a Paycom employee in New York, Boodoosingh made $60,000, but given that the cost of living in New York City is 37 percent higher than in Oklahoma City, his attorney argued that translated into “an annual gross salary of $37,800.00 in Oklahoma dollars.” (Emphasis in original.) As a result, Boodoosingh’s attorney argued the cost of travelling to Oklahoma and associated lodging for the Paycom deposition equaled “about 4.2% of Defendant’s entire annual net income.” (Emphasis in original.)
In a March 2 email sent to a Paycom attorney, Boodoosingh’s lawyer suggested that the deposition could be done “by either telephone or video” in order to complete the deposition in March.
Virtual depositions were becoming common at that time due to COVID-19. By December 15, 2020, an article on the website of the American Bar Association noted, “Although virtual (or remote) depositions were occurring prior to COVID-19, they have become the norm since March 2020, and the days of clients paying attorneys to travel for many depositions may become a thing of the past.”
However, Paycom rejected that option. In a May 4, 2020 filing, Paycom argued that Boodoosingh “has not established or provided any evidence of an undue burden with relation to appearing for his deposition in Oklahoma City.”
“It is not a surprise or unique litigation tactic for the plaintiff in the case to take the deposition of the defendant, which is what Paycom seeks,” Paycom’s filing stated. “Further, given the importance of Defendant’s testimony, it should be of no surprise that Paycom desires to take Defendant’s deposition in person. Nevertheless, Defendant claims, without evidence or support, that this request is an undue burden.”
Even as Paycom demanded that Boodoosingh travel from New York to Oklahoma City at a time of COVID-19 spread, the company’s legal filing explicitly noted that COVID-19 was causing major curtailment of routine legal activity.
“Due to the filing of Defendant’s Motion for Protective Order, as well as the delay’s (sic) associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, Paycom has suffered a significant delay in the taking of Defendant’s deposition,” the company stated in a filing.
In that May 4, 2020 filing, Paycom included a copy of the “Second Emergency Joint Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster” issued by the Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on March 27. That document canceled all jury terms and suspended most court deadlines and procedures through May 15, 2020, and closed courthouses in all 77 counties in Oklahoma.
The courts’ second emergency order also explicitly urged court officials to use electronic means of communication to conduct business as much as possible in response to COVID-19 spread, stating, “Judges shall continue to use remote participation to the extent possible by use of telephone conferencing, video conferencing pursuant to Rule 34 of the Rules for District Courts, or other means.”
A hearing on the issue was eventually conducted in June 2020, and on July 16, 2020 a judge ordered Boodoosingh to travel to “appear personally in Oklahoma for deposition prior to August 31, 2020.”
Paycom did not respond to a request for comment.
For many of the weeks and months that Paycom sought to force Boodoosingh to travel to Oklahoma, New York was the nation’s leading hotspot for COVID-19 spread.
New York was the first state to record a positive case of COVID-19 and quickly became the epicenter of the epidemic. By April 10, 2020, New York state had more confirmed coronavirus cases than any country outside of the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. At that time, New York had 161,807 confirmed cases, more than the totals recorded in Spain, Italy, France and Germany.
In addition, by April 10 more than one out of every three confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States was located in New York, and New York continued to record more COVID-19 cases than any other state until July 2020.
Researchers eventually concluded that much of the early national spread of COVID-19 was attributable to travel to or from New York.
On May 7, 2020, the New York Times reported, “New York City’s coronavirus outbreak grew so large by early March that the city became the primary source of new infections in the United States, new research reveals, as thousands of infected people traveled from the city and seeded outbreaks around the country.”
In that same article, the Times reported the “number of cases across the country was closely related to how many travelers each place received from New York in early March, based on anonymized cellphone tracking data from Cuebiq, a data intelligence company.”
In his March 2020 letter to Stitt, Richison declared, “As I have a duty to care for my employees at Paycom, you as governor also have a duty to care for and warn all Oklahomans. To that point, it is my urgent and sincere hope you will take to heart the actions I have outlined. They will save lives and that alone should be foremost on your mind at this moment.”