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Avon Will Stop Snooping Into Rival’s Garbage

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Avon won’t be calling on Mary Kay’s garbage bin anymore.

A unit of Mary Kay Corp. announced a court agreement Monday that bars Avon Products, its giant rival in the cosmetics business, from taking any more stuff out of its trash dumpster.

The pact also requires Avon to show Mary Kay’s Richmont Corp. unit what it has already plucked from the garbage. “We have visitation rights,” said Richmont spokesman Dwight Smith.

The revelation that Avon’s investigators were sifting through Richmont’s garbage surfaced in a federal court battle between the companies. In that case, Avon has contended that Richmont--despite professing otherwise--remained part of a hostile investment group that stalked Avon.

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Avon said that after it became convinced Richmont wouldn’t fully comply with a subpoena for documents it sought in the federal case, the company decided to try digging some of the needed material out of the dumpster. So far, Avon said, that decision has paid off.

“We found more potentially relevant documents in Mary Kay’s dumpster than Mary Kay produced in response to our subpoena,” said Avon spokesman John Cox.

Cox wouldn’t elaborate on what Avon discovered in the trash. But Smith said that among the things Avon found--either in the dumpster or perhaps through other channels--were the handwritten notes of a newly hired employee who was briefed on Richmont’s 4% stake in Avon.

Meanwhile, Richmont is pressing a separate civil suit it filed last week in a Texas state court seeking $10 million in punitive damages. It accuses Avon of trespassing and illegally taking trade secrets and other confidential information from its dumpster in Addison, Tex.

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The case, if it proceeds, is likely to revolve around a legally fuzzy point: When do people legally have the right to get their hands on someone else’s garbage?

“We’re not stupid people. The humorous side of this is not lost on us,” Smith said. “But more than that, there’s a feeling of violation that somebody has taken this stuff. Even if (Richmont) didn’t want it anymore, that didn’t give Avon the right to take it.”


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