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Fruit of the Loom is suing competitor Gildan Activewear Inc., accusing the Montreal company of stealing trade secrets to grab a competitive edge in the cutthroat apparel business. “This case is about industrial espionage at the highest corporate level and the lengths to which predatory competitors will go to obtain commercial advantage,” Fruit of the Loom alleged in its lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Illinois last week. Lawyers for the Cayman Islands based-underwear manufacturer asked for unspecified damages and a court order to prohibit Gildan from using production and sales forecasts allegedly obtained in November. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall issued a temporary restraining order against Gildan. A Gildan spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, saying the company was studying the court order. Fruit of the Loom alleges that former manager Elizabeth Walton passed critical documents to her ex-employer, David Cherry, one of five Fruit of the Loom executives who fled the company in recent years as it wallowed in bankruptcy protection. Cherry, now an executive vice president at Gildan, allegedly asked Walton over a pay phone Nov. 27 to “get my hands on a Fruit of the Loom forecast report and a sew plan report,” according to the lawsuit. Walton promptly sent the reports. Walton couldn’t be reached for comment and Cherry, through a Gildan spokeswoman, declined to be interviewed by the newspaper. Fruit of the Loom contends the reports include production goals for plants in El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico that would allow Gildan to estimate production costs. They detail sales to specific customers, trends in demand and budget information. John Ray, general counsel for Fruit of the Loom, said Walton wasn’t paid for the documents and it was unclear why she would hand them over. Fruit of the Loom filed for bankruptcy protection from its creditors on Dec. 29, 1999. Under the Chapter 11 filing, the company has reduced costs by laying off employees, closing plants and dropping unprofitable lines. Gildan’s profits have soared from $6 million in 1997 to $56 million last year. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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