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Women win judgments in store security camera suit

ATHENS — Four women who worked at a cosmetics counter in a Belk store have been awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars after they sued, claiming security guards used a hidden camera to watch them undress.

Two plaintiffs who worked full time for Makeup Art Cosmetics, a private contractor within the department store, were awarded $230,000 each Thursday. Two part-time employees will receive $180,000.

The jury decided to award the money after a weeklong trial.

"I hope it sends a message that you can't treat people this way," said Noel Spearman, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Store managers installed a hidden camera in a stockroom in 2005, catching the women on tape while they changed clothes before and after shifts.

Lawyers for Belk argued that it installed the camera to catch thieves and said the employees should have known it was there.

But the plaintiffs' attorneys said no one told them about the camera and blamed managers for not removing it even after taping the women undressing and after thefts from the stockroom dropped.

The employees suffered from sleeplessness, anxiety and paranoia due to the invasion of privacy, one of their attorneys, Jay Lewis, said during his closing argument Thursday.

He asked the Superior Court jury for "seven figure" actual and punitive damages for each of the plaintiffs.

But defense attorney William T. Casey said the women should not have expected privacy in the stockroom because the door did not lock from the inside and anyone could walk in; and because the store policy is that employees should only assume they are not being watched in restrooms and fitting rooms.

While arguing that the employees had no reasonable expectation of privacy, Casey urged the jury to award only "nominal" damages if they ruled in favor of the women.





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