The Counsellor's Corner


     It is time once again to address one of my pet peeves, the frivolous lawsuit.  These are lawsuits that will be filed as long as there are attorneys, however it really irritates me to read about them.

     This is a right-to-privacy lawsuit and I am a strong believer in one's right to privacy.  It's not the fact that there was a violation of privacy that concerns me, it's the alleged damages. 

     I think there clearly is liability as this lawsuit was filed against Consolidated Freightways once it was discovered that there were video surveillance cameras in restrooms at its Riverside County truck terminal.  The supposed goal was to combat employee drug use as the company claimed that they had to be protected against impaired employees.

     This policy has led to class action lawsuits, grievances filed as per the collective bargaining agreement between labor and management and individual personal injury lawsuits.

     The company claims that their goal was to put an end to drug use and the sale of drugs by employees which they claim is common in the transportation industry.  They attempt to defend themselves, somewhat meekly, by indicating that the cameras were aimed toward "common areas" of the restroom as opposed to the urinals or stalls.

     Well, one Patrick Kemp found out the hard way that at least one of the cameras was aimed at a urinal or a stall, which led to his violation of privacy lawsuit claiming that the video surveillance had "exposed his lack of circumcision, all but ruining his sexual relationship with his fiance."  This boggles my mind.  Hadn't she noticed?  How could whatever was picked up on video surveillance have given his fiance information she didn't already have.  Mr. Kemp's claim is that the video made this information available to her, ruining his sexual relationship with her.  This makes absolutely no sense.

     The case has been filed in Riverside and I have thought of a number of different possibilities with respect to how this could have impacted his relationship with his fiance, but I keep coming back to this being the kind of case that gives lawyers and people who come to lawyers with claims like this a bad name.

     No one other than management knew about the cameras until late 1997 when a mirror in a bathroom was found loose by an employee who attempted to fix it.  The camera was behind the mirror.  The Riverside D.A.'s office considered filing charges as this type of surveillance appears to violate criminal statutes.  The Deputy District Attorney in charge of the investigation ultimately decided that he would not file criminal charges as the videotaping was not "motivated by criminal intent".  He suggested that those who are aggrieved go to civil court and bring a civil lawsuit.  When the tapes were turned over, there were approximately 150 restroom surveillance tapes and half of them showed people using urinals.

     In his lawsuit Mr. Kemp claimed he was humiliated by having "private acts become public knowledge."  I wish I knew the act to which he is referring as I am assuming that what he did in the restroom would be considered appropriate behavior. 

     Again, there is no defense for what the company's actions.  They were wrong, they technically violated the law whether the D.A.'s office decided to prosecute them or not, and people certainly are entitled to privacy in the bathroom; however, in order to have a meritorious lawsuit you need both liability and damages.  Liability is clear here, however the alleged damages are ludicrous.  The company claims that Mr. Kemp is making all this up and that Mr. Kemp is not on any of the videos as they were not installed at the terminal until after he stopped working there.  They further claim that the only way he knew that the surveillance had taken place was by reading reports in the media.

     If this is true, Mr. Kemp's claim becomes more pathetic.  We should have the right to privacy in the restroom, and if one wants to file a claim for damages pertaining to the right itself being violated and any real damage that might come from it, that's one thing, but to make the claims that Mr. Kemp did is very sad to see.


          Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth.  Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.