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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Starbucks Corp can keep private the names of potential plaintiffs in a lawsuit accusing it of illegally requiring job applicants to disclose old marijuana convictions, a state appeals court ruled.
The world's largest coffee chain was accused in a 2005 lawsuit of violating a mid-1970s California law that bars employers from asking job applicants about minor marijuana convictions that are more than two years old.
After the three original plaintiffs were barred from leading the case because they had no marijuana convictions, a lower court judge directed Starbucks, following a disclosure request by plaintiffs' lawyers, to randomly sort through job applicants until it found 25 qualified to lead the lawsuit.
These people were to be told in a letter about the case and given a chance to "opt out" of having their names revealed.
Starbucks objected to having to do this, and on April 25 a three-judge appeals court panel agreed with the company.
The lawsuit had sought class-action status and damages on behalf of roughly 135,000 job applicants.
California's Fourth District Court of Appeal said the plaintiffs' lawyers had not shown that any job seekers were hurt by Starbucks' application form, and that ordering the company "to do this work for them" would damage the applicants' privacy interests.
"One can only imagine the potential consternation in a household where a Starbucks applicant with a marijuana-tinged past is 'outed' to a spouse, child, or roommate who opens the letter," Associate Justice Raymond Ikola wrote for the panel.
"Can a purported remedy cause the very disease it is supposed to prevent? In this so-called 'headless' class action, the answer regrettably is yes," Ikola added.
Mike Arias, a lawyer who filed the lawsuit, was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.
A Starbucks spokeswoman said the Seattle-based company is pleased with the ruling, which it views as "paving the way for dismissal of the lawsuit."
The lawsuit sought statutory damages equal to the greater of actual damages; or $26 million, or $200 per applicant.
The case is Starbucks Corp v. Superior Court of Orange County, California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, No. G043650.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Tim Dobbyn