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Several Friendly’s restaurants in New England and beyond will be targeted for discovery in a sexual harassment case stemming from Connecticut, after a federal judge partially granted a discovery motion in a Title VII claim against the popular chain. In granting several requests for discovery in Sherri Greco v. Friendly’s Ice Cream Corporation, et al., U.S. District Judge Magistrate Donna Martinez, for the District of Connecticut, limited the geographic scope of discovery requests made by the plaintiff despite “the broad scope of discovery permitted in Title VII actions.” Although Greco’s attorney Raymond Plouffe, of Bridgeport, Conn.’s Bai, Pollock, Blueweiss & Mulcahey, had requested discovery documents from Friendly’s restaurants across the country, Martinez limited the geographic scope of discovery to restaurants in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Among the items requested by Plouffe include all legal complaints filed against Friendly’s from 1990 to the present, relating to similar claims as Greco’s. Greco contends Friendly’s, and certain of its managerial employees, discriminated and retaliated against her on the basis of sex, stating the company’s sexual harassment policy is not enforced and the company engages in “white washing of employment discrimination claims as consensual violations of an anti-fraternization policy.” In her suit, Greco claims that she reported to Friendly’s administrators that her manager, Michael Morris, also named as a defendant in the case, sexually harassed her. Adding that the company accepted Morris’ explanation that his relationship with her was consensual, and that the company failed to terminate him for violating Friendly’s fraternization policy. Greco argues that Friendly’s claim history is relevant to the enforcement of its sexual harassment policy and the “whitewashing” as well as “to the defendant’s alleged reckless indifference to sexual harassment complaints and therefore to her claim for punitive damage.” Martinez agreed with the defendants that Greco’s request for information regarding similar claims dating back to 1990 was “overly broad”, but did allow discovery of such claims to four years prior to the alleged incidents with Greco, which began in 1999 until she left her job a year later. Plouffe did not return telephone calls made by the Law Tribune. Attorney Floyd Dugas, of Milford, Conn.’s Berchem, Moses, & Devlin, represents Friendly’s and all other defendants except Morris, who is represented by Bridgeport attorney Stanton Lesser. Dugas declined to comment directly on specifics in the case, citing pending litigation and a confidentiality order, but did say Martinez’s decision did not necessary reflect what evidence would be allowed in at trial. “It’s pretty unlikely that some of the things allowed by the judge [will be] admissible at trial,” Dugas said. Martinez also granted discovery as to complaints alleging gender and disability discrimination and violation of the fraternization policy; and computer records — such as e-mails, discs and other information, of the Friendly’s employees involved in the incidents giving rise to the lawsuit. The plaintiff also requested information and documentation on whether Friendly’s had “entered into any agreement between the defendants” in the case. According to the ruling, Friendly’s objected to the request on grounds that it was not relevant, but stated in its memorandum in opposition to a motion to compel that it had entered into a joint defense and confidentially agreement with all of the individually named defendants, two of whom are no longer employees, and Morris, who is represented by separate counsel. The company argued to the court that the contents of the joint-defense and confidentiality agreement were protected by the “joint-defense privilege or common interest rule.” However, Martinez wrote “the record before the court is insufficient to permit the court to determine whether the document [contains] client confidences so as to fall within the scope of privilege,” ordering Friendly’s to submit the document for an in camera inspection. “Because the burden of proving the privilege rests on the person or entity claiming the privilege,” Martinez wrote, citing the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision in United States v. Construction Products Research, Inc., “it is incumbent on Friendly’s to establish that this document reveals communications made by the defendants to their attorneys in confidence for the purpose of securing legal advice.”

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