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Harmon v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co.

Decided: June 3, 1994.

JOHN W. HARMON, RONALD M. GARGANO, AND MICHAEL FILLER, JR., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
GREAT ATLANTIC & PACIFIC TEA COMPANY, INC., DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County.

Before Judges Shebell, Long and Landau.

Shebell

The opinion of the court was delivered by SHEBELL, P.J.A.D.

This appeal involves a discovery issue which arises out of an age discrimination suit brought by plaintiffs, John Harmon, Ronald Gargano, and Michael Filler against defendant, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A & P). The complaint alleges that plaintiffs' employment with defendant was terminated in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -42. Plaintiffs' complaint further alleges that they suffered and continue to suffer "severe mental anguish, stress,

humiliation and pain" as a result of the "wrongful acts" of defendant. Plaintiffs seek, among other relief, "compensatory damages, including damages for pain and suffering. . . [and] punitive damages."

As part of discovery, identical document requests were served on all plaintiffs. Plaintiffs objected to those portions of defendant's requests which sought plaintiffs' checkbook registers, bank statements and credit card bills, receipts and statements for the period "from January 1, 1990, to the present." Following unsuccessful attempts to resolve the issue, defendant filed a motion to compel plaintiffs' compliance. Without oral argument, the Law Division Judge ordered plaintiffs to produce the documents. We granted plaintiffs' motion for leave to appeal, and now reverse.

plaintiffs were employees of A & P. On or about April 17, 1991, plaintiffs were terminated in a company-wide layoff involving approximately 100 employees, as part of A & P's "1991 capital plan." Plaintiff Harmon, fifty-four years old at the time of the layoff, was National Director of Construction and had been an employee of A & P for thirty-eight years. Five employees of defendant had the same title and job duties of plaintiff Harmon. Two of these five were also laid off at the same time as plaintiff and a total of approximately twenty-one people were laid off in his department. Plaintiff Gargano, fifty-seven years old at the time of the layoff, was Director of Architecture. He had been employed by A & P for seven and one-half years. Plaintiff Filler, age sixty-four at the time of the layoff, was Director of Special Projects. He had been employed by defendant for seven years.

Defendant's motion to compel the turnover of documents related specifically to the following two paragraphs contained in its request for production of documents that was served upon all three plaintiffs:

13. Plaintiff's checkbook registers and bank statements for the period January 1, 1990 to the present;

17. All documents or tangible things which refer to or relate in any way to plaintiff's credit card activity for the period of January 1, 1990 to present, including, but not limited to, credit card statements, credit card bills and credit card receipt. . . .

Plaintiffs objected to the discovery of their checkbook registers and bank statements because this request was "overbroad, burdensome, violative of [their] privacy, not reasonably related to the discovery of relevant evidence but rather to harass plaintiffs." Plaintiffs claimed that the request for credit card bills, ...


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