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Mary Kay Sues Avon, Detectives Claiming They Ransacked Garbage

March 13, 1991 GMT

DALLAS (AP) _ The beauty wars have gotten downright ugly.

Cosmetics giant Avon Products Inc. has been accused by a competitor of digging through a trash bin to uncover trade secrets and confidential documents.

Dallas-based Mary Kay Corp. and another company filed suit Tuesday against Avon, alleging the New York-based company and two detective agencies improperly obtained company documents.

The lawsuit filed in state district court seeks $10 million in punitive damages.

Mary Kay and Richmont Corp. contend the defendants searched a trash bin at Richmont’s headquarters in Addison, a Dallas suburb.

The court granted an immediate restraining order against Avon and its investigators to prevent them from reconstructing or using any confidential information.

Attached to Richmont’s petition was a copy of correspondence from Avon’s lawyers to a federal judge in New York in another legal action, acknowledging that Avon hired investigators to sift through Richmont’s trash. The letter suggested that Avon is trying to reconstruct shredded documents, according to the petition.

The lawsuit said that Richmont ″does not know how such documents were obtained, but that the plaintiffs suspect they must have been obtained by surreptitious means, perhaps including unauthorized entry into (Richmont’s) offices.″

The lawsuit alleges that Avon, Kroll Associates of New York and Southwest Security and Investigations Inc., conspired to commit several unlawful acts, including the removal of trade secrets and confidential information from trash and trespassing on private property to get to it.

The lawsuit drew sharp reaction today from Avon.

″The suit is baseless. We will defend ourselves. We are going to federal court this morning (in New York) and ask the judge to stop the sideshow in Dallas,″ John Cox, Avon’s senior vice president for communications, said in New York.

Richmont manages the business and investments of Argonaut Partners I, an investment affiliate of Mary Kay. Various other companies with some of the same principals own some shares of Avon, which has been the basis of a lawsuit and a proxy fight for seats on Avon’s board of directors.