CHICAGO (CN) – A federal judge has slammed the brakes on claims that the government is liable to a Veterans Affairs employee who says she was secretly videotaped changing into her uniform.
From 2007 to 2009, Renee Gustafson worked as a lieutenant in the Police and Security Service at the Jesse Brown Veterans Administration Medical Center in Chicago.
She and other female co-workers used a specific office to change into their required uniforms, according to the complaint.
In May 2007, Gustafson’s supervisor, Myron Thomas, instructed his colleague, Williams Adkins, to install a hidden surveillance camera in that office, she says.
“The hidden surveillance camera was functional and likely captured video images of Gustafson and other female officials changing clothes,” according to the court’s summary of the complaint. “Further, since the camera wires led to Thomas’s office, Gustafson alleges a high likelihood that Thomas personally viewed and recorded such images.”
Gustafson sued Thomas, Adkins, and the United States for “mental and emotional anguish” in 2011, claiming that said she learned about the camera’s existence two years earlier.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Marvin Aspen stayed the claims against the government pending review of the case by the U.S. labor secretary.
Gustafson argues that “her injuries – emotional distress caused by an intentional tort are outside FECA’s scope,” Aspen said, abbreviating the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act. “She points to the statutory definition of ‘injury,’ which ‘included, in addition to injury by accident, a disease proximately caused by the employment, and damage to or destruction of medical braces, artificial limbs, and other prosthetic devices.'”
“As a pure question of statutory interpretation, Gustafson’s arguments have intuitive appeal,” the ruling states. “However, FECA’s scheme does not allow such judicial review of the definitional language. Congress provided that the ‘Secretary of Labor shall administer, and decide all questions arising under’ FECA.”
For the case to proceed against the United States, the secretary “must find that FECA does not cover her claim,” Aspen wrote (emphasis in original).