LOS ANGELES (CN) – Former employees claim in court that Sears turned a “blind eye” for years to a worker who videotaped women and children in changing rooms and uploaded the videos to the Internet, then tried to hush up the scandal after the man was arrested in April.
More than 20 plaintiffs, most of them women, some of them children, claim that since 2009 maintenance worker Alejandro Gamiz – 27 at the time he was charged – created peepholes to spy on women and children in fitting rooms of a Sears North Hollywood store, and installed a hidden video camera behind walls to record and then upload images to the internet.
A Sears attendant discovered the equipment and peepholes on April 12, according to the Los Angeles News.
In the Superior Court complaint, 13 former employees of the North Hollywood store claim that Sears tried to bind them to arbitration contracts to stop them from filing a lawsuit.
Sears Holding Corp., Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Gamiz are named as defendants. Nine Sears customers are also named as plaintiffs.
Sears Holding spokeswoman Kimberly Freely told Courthouse News in an email that she could not comment on pending litigation.
“But as we said previously, and with all due respect to the associates who may have been impacted by this incident, no member of management or leadership in the company had any prior knowledge of the accused’s alleged conduct until it was discovered in our store,” Freely wrote. “At that point, we immediately launched an investigation and turned the matter over to the police.”
But the plaintiffs say: “Gamiz exhibited suspicious behavior throughout the course of his employment with Sears. Gamiz regularly and frequently purported to be performing maintenance in the women’s restrooms, women’s dressing rooms, children’s dressing rooms, air ducts and crawl spaces when no maintenance was required, requested or necessary. Gamiz would close off access to these areas such that he had the opportunity to drill the peep holes and install the video equipment without interruption.”
It adds: “By Sears intentionally turning a blind eye to Gamiz’s behavior, Sears allowed Gamiz to spy for years on women and children as they undressed and used the restroom and further allowed him to record these women and children and upload, their images to the Internet.”
Gamiz was arrested by North Hollywood sexual assault detectives and charged with burglary and surreptitious filming of unsuspecting women, according to ABC News. He was released after posting a $20,000 bail, ABC reported.
The plaintiffs claim that Sears did its best to muzzle employees just two weeks before Gamiz’s arrest, by tying them to arbitration agreements.
“Plaintiffs are informed and believe, and thereon allege, that Sears distributed the arbitration agreement and pressured its employees to sign the agreement before the announcement regarding Gamiz’s conduct and imminent arrest in order to prevent the Sears employee plaintiffs from filing this lawsuit in the Superior Court and attempt to force the Sears employee plaintiffs to waive their rights to a jury trial,” the complaint states.
Sears also warned employees not to talk to the media and opened workers’ compensation claims without employees’ knowledge to try to stop them suing, the complaint states.
The plaintiffs are represented by Michael Alder with AlderLaw of Beverly Hills.
They seek compensatory and punitive damages for negligent hiring, negligent supervision, negligent retention of an employee, violation of Civil Code § 1708.8(b), invasion of privacy, violation of right to privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, hostile work environment, retaliation, failure to prevent harassment, failure to prevent retaliation, and constructive discharge.