Law360, San Francisco (August 10, 2016, 7:12 PM ET) — A New York Supreme Court judge has granted a protective order ruling that Zara USA Inc. cannot access personal or confidential documents on the laptop of a former general counsel who has brought a $40 million lawsuit against the clothing giant alleging he was harassed for being Jewish and gay.
Judge David Benjamin Cohen ruled last week that Zara’s request for personal documents on Ian Jack Miller’s work computer were immaterial to the case alleging he was discriminated against by company executives. He wrote in his order that Zara had been unable to say why it needed documents that had been created after Miller was laid off, and accused Zara of trying to glean information about case strategy by accessing emails between Miller and his lawyer.
“The court sees no reason why these documents, created after plaintiff was terminated, may relate to the reasons plaintiff was terminated,” the judge wrote. “It appears defendant is merely trying to gain litigation advantage by accessing documents that may be privileged.”
The documents are on a laptop that Miller used for work. Zara had claimed that the computer and all communications on it are the property of Zara, per a company policy that Miller helped draft.
The computer was stored in an evidence locker, and Miller identified personal files and data he wanted to delete from a list of all documents on the computer. But Zara wanted access to the 106 personal or privileged documents, though all but five of them were created after Miller lost his job.
Miller’s attorney, David Tracey of Sanford Heisler, told Law360 Wednesday he was pleased with the judge’s decision.
“We think the court appropriately balanced the interests of the parties in the files at issue in this motion by recognizing that defendants had no need to obtain the documents at issue while plaintiffs had a compelling argument for their protection,” he said.
The document dispute comes after a February row over emails between Miller and his long-time partner. Miller had argued Zara’s subpoena was excessive and merely a continuation of the company’s harassment, while Zara claimed the emails contain specific discussions of work instances Miller now claims caused him “severe emotional distress,” according to one of its motions.
Miller sued Zara in June 2015, claiming he endured widespread discrimination. Zara executives sent Miller emails containing images of penises and used Yiddish words such as “oy” and “schlep” after learning that he was gay and Jewish, Miller said in his complaint.
Miller complained several times to top executives, who told him on March 2, 2015, that his job was in jeopardy. Miller’s attorneys then sent a letter to the company two days later notifying them of their alleged violations of human rights and labor laws of New York City and New York state. Zara terminated him the following day.
Representatives and attorneys for Zara did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment.
Miller is represented by David Sanford, Jeremy Heisler, Alexandra Harwin and David Tracey of Sanford Heisler Kimpel LLP.
Zara is represented by David S. Warner, Nancy E. Pritikin and Joseph E. Field of Littler Mendelson PC.
The case is Miller v. Zara USA Inc. et al., case number 155512-2015, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York.
–Additional reporting by Kali Hays. Editing by Philip Shea.