A federal judge has ordered FedEx to produce emails it claims were too vast in number to retrieve in a deaf and hard-of-hearing discrimination case brought against the shipping company by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

FedEx is accused of exhibiting bias against its deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers and job applicants across the country.

U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak of the Western District of Pennsylvania denied FedEx’s motion to preclude discovery. FedEx had argued that it was unreasonable to be expected to search through hundreds of thousands of emails. Additionally, the company said that if it has to produce the emails, the EEOC should pay the resulting costs.

However, Hornak said FedEx went out of its way to determine that the request for electronically stored information (ESI) was unreasonable.

“After its review of the extensive materials in what appears to the court to be a relatively straightforward discovery dispute, the court concludes that the EEOC’s requested ESI from FedEx fits within the limits and scope of discovery that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure say should be permitted in this case,” Hornak wrote in his opinion.

“FedEx reportedly went to great lengths (and expense) to demonstrate that the EEOC’s requests were ‘unreasonable,’” he continued, “based on the magnitude of the search results they yielded, but even when the court considers FedEx’s own statistics-based arguments, it concludes that the EEOC’s requested discovery remains ‘relevant to [its] claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties’ relative access to relevant information, the parties’ resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.’”

FedEx also argued the materials requested were irrelevant.

“The court agrees with the EEOC that FedEx incorrectly attempts to frame relevancy as a binary test where information is either irrelevant or a ‘smoking gun.’ After review of the EEOC’s email discovery request, it strikes the court as within the much more encompassing target of what would reasonably lead to the discovery of information relevant to the EEOC’s claims or FedEx’s defenses,” Hornak said.

The judge also rejected FedEx’s argument that it should not be expected to spend the time and money to sift through a starting pool of roughly 363,000 emails because only a fraction of that number is properly discoverable.

“From ‘Day One,’ the parties have been of the view that they believe this is a big case. On that, the court takes them at their word. But, part and parcel of that reality is that in big cases, there will likely be large amounts of potentially discoverable information, which means, for better or worse, a lot of work in identifying and producing it. At the end of that process, there still will (not surprisingly) be a lot of information that will become the grist of the litigation mill. That is apparently the case here,” Hornak said.

Christina Kepplinger Johansen of FedEx’s legal department did not respond to a request for comment. Debra M. Lawrence of the EEOC declined to comment.

In a statement, a FedEx spokeswoman said, “FedEx Ground will comply with the court’s decision on this procedural discovery question, and remains confident in defending the EEOC’s claims as the case proceeds.”