The Washington, D.C. and Chicago offices of the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") filed a lawsuit against the Davis Typewriter Company on August 27, 2012 alleging that the company failed to take appropriate corrective action to prevent sexual harassment by a supervisor who used office surveillance cameras to zoom in on an employee’s breasts and other parts of her body. The complaint in EEOC v_ Davis Typewriter Company, No. 13-cv-02345 (D. Minn.) alleges that Stacey Alm, the company’s operation manager and supervisor of the charging party,Tracey Kelley, manipulated the security camera system to conduct on-going, surreptitious video surveillance of Kelley, focusing the camera on her face, body and chest, which created a sexually hostile work environment. The complaint further alleges that Kelley complained of the conduct to the company’s president and manager, but the company failed to take prompt and appropriate measures to stop the harassment. Kelley eventually resigned and filed a charge with the EEOC. After settlement and conciliation talks failed the agency filed suit.
Video surveillance of employees is not per se illegal in Minnesota. The general rule, as in most states, is that an employer may photograph employees in plan view, at their workstations, and during working hours for a legitimate purpose such as time and motion studies, or as part of an investigation. Like other facets of workplace privacy, however, the law on use of video surveillance varies widely state to state based on local legislation. CA, CT, WV, RI and MI, for example, have laws prohibiting video cameras in bathrooms or locker rooms. Other states require employers to provide notice before monitoring employees. Employers should consider the use of video or any type of monitoring carefully, and put in place safeguards to avoid abuse by rogue employees. The take away from the Davis lawsuit is that misuse of video surveillance can potentially lead to expensive sexual harassment claims, as well as privacy concerns. While old technology like typewriters may be going away, new technology can often lead to problems, and liability.