A video camera hidden in a workplace bathroom doesn’t have to produce any images for someone to believe their privacy was violated, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled last Friday.
The court’s decision allows two women to move forward with lawsuits they filed in 2006 in Black Hawk County after they found a video camera hidden in a restroom at the Waterloo insurance agency where they worked. The decision reverses a district court ruling that dismissed the lawsuits against insurance agent Robert Speirs.
Court records show Speirs claimed he first installed a camera in the reception area of the office where Sara Koeppel worked after her work performance deteriorated and he became suspicious she was involved in conduct detrimental to the office. He removed the camera 10 days later after not capturing anything suspicious. He later installed the camera in the office’s unisex bathroom after he said he found a hypodermic needle in the parking lot near where Koeppel parked her car.
The camera didn’t work properly in the bathroom and did not capture any images, court records show.
Koeppel and a co-worker, Deanna Miller, discovered the camera before Speirs could remove it and called police. Speirs was acquitted on criminal charges in connection with the case, online court records show.
Both women filed individual lawsuits against Speirs claiming invasion of privacy but a district court dismissed the claims in a ruling that said the law required that the equipment work and that Speirs had viewed images of the women.
The state court of appeals later reversed the decision and Speirs asked the state Supreme Court to review the case.
Speirs argued he could not be held liable for his conduct because the camera didn’t work.
Court records show that Koeppel offered evidence the camera was capable of working and evidence that it has been operated in the past from a different location in the office.
“This evidence meets the standard and would lead a reasonable person to believe his or her privacy had been invaded,” the court wrote.
The court also ruled that “the act of intrusion is complete once it is discovered … because acquisition of information is not a requirement.”
“Harm from intrusion arises when a plaintiff reasonably believes an intrusion has occurred,” the court wrote.
John Rausch, Koeppel’s attorney, declined comment. Telephone messages left for attorneys for Miller and Speirs were not immediately returned.