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A federal magistrate has lost patience with Coca-Cola Co. and says the company may face sanctions if it doesn’t turn over documents by Friday to lawyers representing plaintiffs in a discrimination lawsuit. In another development, relations between two law firms representing two groups of minority employees against Coke are growing openly contentious. The plaintiffs’ firm that has complained Coca-Cola is withholding documents now faces accusations from Florida lawyer Willie Gary that it won’t share documents with him. Gary represents three employees jettisoned in April from the potential class action suit. A year ago, U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story ordered Coca-Cola to give plaintiffs’ lawyers an employee database that includes information on compensation, promotions, demotions and transfers of current and former employees. Story ordered the company to make the information available by July 1, 1999. Abdallah v. The Coca-Cola Co., No. 1:98-CV-3679, May, 25, 2000.) The company never produced the information, according to plaintiffs’ attorneys H. Lamar Mixson and Jeffrey O. Bramlett of Atlanta’s Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore. DISCOVERY MOTION GRANTED Now U.S. Magistrate E. Clayton Scofield III has granted a six-month-old motion to compel discovery. Scofield ordered Coca-Cola to certify by Friday “that it has made full and complete production as required, or show cause, upon penalty of sanctions, why it has not done so.” He scheduled a hearing on the matter for June 23. Coca-Cola lawyer Michael W. Johnston of Atlanta’s King & Spalding declined comment. But in a response to a subsequent sanctions motion filed by the employee’s legal team, Coke lawyers claimed that Bondurant, Mixson’s attorneys “deliberately misconstrue the ‘facts’ in order to contend that Coca-Cola has stonewalled. … To the contrary, Coca-Cola has worked diligently to comply … and has devoted extensive time and effort to the identification, collection, review and preparation of documents for production.” Bondurant, Mixson lawyers also are fighting with Coca-Cola to depose company director Herbert Allen, president and chief executive officer of the New York investment banking firm Allen & Co. Company lawyers are seeking a protective order to quash Allen’s deposition, claiming the employees’ attorneys are seeking to depose Allen “for no apparent reason other than to harass Mr. Allen and Coca-Cola and to once again generate headlines.” Allen chairs the board’s compensation committee, which approves salaries for officers and employees eligible for stock options. The hardball litigation continues despite ongoing attempts to settle the discrimination suit through mediation, says Bramlett. Efforts to reach an agreement through court-ordered mediation have not forestalled the plaintiffs’ pursuit of class action status and their lawyers’ preparation for a court battle should mediation fail, Bramlett says. “There are two tracks,” he says. “One is the mediation track. One is the litigation track.” Meanwhile, Gary, who represents four of the original plaintiffs in the suit against Coca-Cola, last Friday filed a motion demanding that his clients’ former lawyers release hundreds of pages of documents and investigative files compiled during the two years since the suit was filed. “Ethically, when attorneys either release their clients or clients release their attorneys, all the files need to be transferred to the new counsel,” says Gary associate Tricia “C.K.” Hoffler. “Our position is we didn’t get all the files we needed to get.” “From our standpoint, it’s very inappropriate what they’ve furnished. … We can’t imagine why they haven’t. We did what ethically we felt we needed to do.” Bramlett insists that his firm has given Gary “all the documents that relate to the claims of the individuals he represents,” including their deposition transcripts and interrogatory responses. But, he acknowledges, “We have not turned over to Mr. Gary’s firm the information that we have generated on behalf of the class,” much of it information that Coca-Cola, reluctantly released as part of discovery. Bramlett says the problem is that, using a court order issued last year as its authority, soft drink company executives and their lawyers have classified most of the information as confidential. “We think all the stuff should be on the public record, anyway,” Bramlett says. “But we’re prohibited by the court from turning it over.” Bramlett says that when he and his co-counsel suggested to Gary “that he join with us in challenging the breadth of the court’s order. Instead, he has turned his attack on us instead of the company. And we will deal with it in due course.”

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