CINCINNATI (CN) – Middle-school officials in Tennessee not entitled to qualified immunity from the claims of 34 students who filed suit over the installation of surveillance cameras in the boys’ and girls’ locker rooms, the 6th Circuit ruled.
“Some personal liberties are so fundamental to human dignity as to need no specific explication in our Constitution in order to ensure their protection against government invasion,” Judge Ryan wrote. “Surreptitiously videotaping the plaintiffs in various states of undress is plainly among them.”
In an effort to boost security, Livingston Middle School officials hired Edutech to install cameras and monitoring equipment near exterior doors and in the locker rooms. The locker-room cameras videotaped areas where students routinely dressed for school athletics.
The captured images were transmitted to a computer in Assistant Principal Robert Jolley’s office and stored on his hard drive, where anyone could access the stored images with the correct username and password. The system was remotely accessed 98 times between July 12, 2002 and Jan. 10, 2003.
Girls on a visiting basketball team noticed the locker-room camera and complained to their coach, who questioned Principal Melinda Beaty about the surveillance. Beaty assured the visitors that the camera had not been activated, though this was not true.
The coach’s complaint wound its way to Director of Schools William Needham, who viewed the stored images of the 10- to 14-year-old girls undressing and said it was “nothing more than images of a few bras and panties.” But the locker-room cameras were removed the next day.
The appeals court determined that defendants had violated the students’ Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches.
The judges granted immunity to school board members and Needham for their limited role in the surveillance, but allowed plaintiffs to proceed with their invasion-of-privacy claim against school officials. Staff should have known that locker-room surveillance violated the Fourth Amendment, the court said.