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Employee Bathroom Surveillance Camera, Although Faulty, Could Be Invasion of Privacy

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Ross_Runkel_aYou can’t think this up: Bathroom surveillance camera.

Koeppel v. Speirs (Iowa 12/23/2011).

Koeppel sued the employer for invasion of privacy and sexual harassment. The trial court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment. The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed on the sexual harassment claim and reversed on the invasion of privacy claim. The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals.

The employer placed a camera in the unisex bathroom. The issue of first impression, proof necessary to establish unreasonable intrusion of the invasion-of-privacy tort, required the court to develop a standard for the jury to apply in determining when electronic devices intrude into privacy.

Nationally, courts are divided on whether installation of surveillance equipment in a private place or whether actual viewing and/or recording triggered the intrusion.

The Iowa Supreme Court determined that a standard involving installation was more consistent with the spirit and purpose of the protection of privacy. Because the parties disputed whether the equipment was capable of exposing Koeppel’s activities in the bathroom, the court stated that evidence the camera was capable of operation and had operated in the past from a different location in the office met the standard.

The court concluded, “[a]n electronic invasion occurs under the intrusion on solitude or seclusion component of the tort of invasion of privacy when the plaintiff establishes by a preponderance of evidence that the electronic device or equipment used by a defendant could have invaded privacy in some way.”

This blog originally appeared in LawMemo: First in Employment Law on December 27, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Ross Runkel is founder of LawMemo, is Professor of Law Emeritus at Willamette University College of Law. He has spent 35 years specializing in employment law, employment discrimination, labor law, and arbitration.


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