Building Owner Fights Liability for Peeping Janitor

TRENTON, N.J. (CN) — The owner of a building where a secret bathroom camera recorded hours of footage urged the New Jersey Supreme Court on Tuesday to kill a suit by women who only suspect that their privacy was violated.

“To simply say because someone worked there for a long time means she must have been in the bathroom at the time when a camera was present is a leap of logic,” said Schenck Price attorney William Buckley, representing I&G Garden State this morning at oral arguments.

The camera in one of I&G’s restrooms was discovered in 2009, leading police to Teodoro Martinez, the building janitor, and his eight-hour stash of video footage.

Justice Barry Albin questioned why it was illogical to assume that an employee who used that bathroom daily would worry she was filmed. He called it is impossible to know if any other footage was deleted or not found.

Buckley emphasized in his argument, however, that the camera was not always in the bathroom, making it a situation of being in “the right place at the right time, or the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Justice Jaynee LaVecchia expressed concern for the women.

“Doesn’t that diminish the mental harm and anguish that comes from knowing a spying device was present in a room they frequented,” LaVecchia asked.

Franklin Solomon, representing lead plaintiff Jamie Friedman and 29 other women who fear that they were spied upon using the bathroom, argued that I&G should be held responsible.

“The owners of the building failed to take reasonable steps and make reasonable inspections of the property to keep it safe,” said Solomon.

Justice Anne Patterson questioned the lawyer, however, on where a property owner’s duties end.

“Your position is that the owner of a commercial building has the duty to regularly inspect the bathroom to see whether or not someone has placed a camera,” asked Patterson.

Solomon said it did not have to be specific to inspecting for a camera, but pushed that the camera would have been found sooner if bathroom inspections occurred regularly.

Albin also noted that the janitor’s recordings included some women who remain identified. “So I suppose the only way one would know whether or not you are one of the unidentified women would be unfortunate to have to look at the video, no,” the judge asked.

Appearing as a friend of the court, attorney CJ Griffin said a system of forcing women to study footage of victims for their own likeness violates their privacy all over again.

“All of the women, whether they found their images on the video or not, are legitimate in feeling violated and victimized and embarrassed and humiliated,” said Griffin, a partner at Pashman Stein law firm.

Solomon said he is hopeful for a ruling favoring his clients, expressing confidence after the hearing that the court understood his arguments. “I think the court has an excellent grasp of the legal issues and the public policy concerns raised by this case,” Solomon said in an email. “I look forward to a swift decision by the court that will allow us to continue the pursuit of justice for our clients, which has been too long delayed by the trial court’s rulings.”

Buckley did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

The panel was rounded out by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and Justices Lee Solomon, Walter Timpone and Faustino Fernandez-Vina.

More than 60 women have sued Martinez and I&G for privacy violations.

Though a judge initially dismissed the claims of Solomon’s 30 clients, a state appellate court reversed in March 2018.

The appellate court looked to Iowa Supreme Court precedent from the 2011 case Koeppel v. Speirs, which found that the mere placement of a recording device in a bathroom is sufficient to bring an invasion of privacy claim.

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