A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order against a Maine man who was fired Monday from his job at the Planet Fitness corporate headquarters in New Hampshire, prohibiting him from distributing any confidential company information in his possession.

The parent company of the popular gym chain filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland accusing Jason Cole of Lebanon of stealing “highly sensitive personal and financial information” about Planet Fitness employees in his role as payroll manager.

Lawyers for the parent company, Pla-Fit Franchise LLC, appeared before U.S. District Judge Jon Levy late in the afternoon Monday asking the court to act pre-emptively without knowing what insider company information Cole may have.

The judge worked into the evening after the court typically closes and by 7 p.m. Monday had issued a temporary restraining order barring not only Cole from disseminating that information, but also prohibiting anyone in active participation with him from doing so.

“Absent a TRO, there is a credible risk that Cole will disclose confidential information that could cause Planet Fitness real harm,” Levy wrote in his eight-page order. “On the other hand, the entry of a TRO will not result in significant hardship to Cole. He is already contractually bound to maintain the confidentiality of Planet Fitness’ information and not to misuse it. Therefore, a temporary restraining order that prohibits Cole from using or disseminating Planet Fitness’ confidential information, and that obligates him to return that information and preserve any information stored on electronic devices, will impose no more than a modest hardship on Cole, if any.”

Levy acknowledges in the order that he has only heard Planet Fitness’ side in the case, and that Cole has not had a chance to be heard. The judge denied Planet Fitness’ request that Cole be ordered to turn over his electronic devices to the company, calling it an “unnecessary violation of his personal privacy.”

Cole’s attorney, Paul Aranson, returned a message left with his client seeking comment and confirmed that Cole has been served with the lawsuit.

“He’s going to review it, and we’ll talk about his options” on Wednesday, Aranson said.

The timing of the lawsuit comes just days after Planet Fitness went public, with an initial public stock offering Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol PLNT. The company employs 172 people at its Newington, New Hampshire, headquarters, where Cole worked, and 715 others across its 56 fitness clubs nationwide.

In the lawsuit, Planet Fitness accuses Cole of threatening to use insider company information that he received inadvertently to interfere with the company’s IPO, and charges him with three counts – breach of contract, converting the company’s personal and financial payroll information for his personal use, and computer fraud.

“Given that Cole has a history of threatening and unstable behavior, there is an exceptionally high risk that Cole will do something drastic with this information after he learns of his termination from Planet Fitness on August 10, 2015,” the lawsuit states.

A Planet Fitness spokeswoman, McCall Gosselin, said Tuesday that although the company did receive complaints from Planet Fitness customers concerned about Cole, he never had access in his role as payroll manager to customer data.

“We can confirm that we have terminated Mr. Jason Cole’s employment and have pursued legal action against him to protect confidential company information from being disseminated. To be clear, Mr. Cole, as payroll manager, did not have access to Planet Fitness members’ data at any time. The information in question is limited only to Planet Fitness corporate information, and the steps taken were out of an abundance of caution to vigorously protect our employees and the company,” Gosselin said in an email.

Specifically, the lawsuit says Cole was mistakenly sent a June 3 email that was supposed to go to a company attorney who has the same name as Jason Cole. Rather than delete the email as he had been instructed by the company’s human resources director, Cole downloaded it to his home computer and kept a copy, the lawsuit says.

“Cole stated that the June 3 e-mail was ‘damning’ from a business and political perspective and threatened to release it publicly right before Planet Fitness went public, in an attempt to disrupt the IPO,” the lawsuit says.

The company also alleges that it received complaints from gym members who expressed concern that Cole had access to their personal information.

“Cole’s conduct suggests that he has likely stolen other highly sensitive personal and financial information about Planet Fitness employees, to which he has access in his role as payroll manager,” the lawsuit says.

The restraining order will remain in effect for 14 days from the time it was issued.

Cole has been a controversial person in the town of Lebanon, where he and his estranged wife, Samantha Cole, once ran the Lebanon Rescue Department.

Under the Coles’ leadership, the ambulance department that was supposed to be a self-funding enterprise went more than $200,000 into debt from 2010 to 2013.

Jason Cole was also a member of the Lebanon Board of Selectmen until he resigned in December 2013, and he also resigned as assistant chief of the rescue department.

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

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