U.S. Cellular Workers Spied On Customers' Phones For Nude Photos, Lawsuit Claims
It's not only teenagers who are sharing explicitly sexual photos on their cellphones. It seems that some U.S. Cellular employees also are using cellphones for a little raunchy fun -- at least if the allegations in a recent sexual harassment lawsuit and civil rights complaint turn out to be true.
According to the suit and the complaint by former U.S. Cellular employee Lisa Blazek, her co-workers in the city of Spencer, Iowa, regularly spied on customers' phones in search of nude pictures and then played an adult version of show-and-tell at work. Blazek claims that several of her male co-workers coerced her into looking at nude and lewd photos when she was employed as a retail consultant at the wireless phone provider.
"Many times I would be called over to look at something only to find out that it was a sexual picture on a customer's phone," says the 32-year-old Blazek in her complaint filed with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.
Blazek worked at a U.S. Cellular store in the northwest Iowa city from 2007 to 2010. In her complaint, she also accuses her co-workers of asking her about her genitalia and preferred sexual positions. And she asserts that she was told not to tell anyone about what was going on at work or she'd lose her job. She eventually quit U.S. Cellular after two years.
The suit is being closely watched by legal observers, who say it has the potential break new ground in legal fields beyond sexual discrimination. "I think this case is unique in its facts," Blazek's attorney, Stanley Munger, told The Associated Press.
In light of the case's particulars, U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett sought the consent of both the plaintiff and defendant to use the suit as a case study in employment discrimination for a class he teaches at Drake University.
There's precedent regarding the use of cellphones at work that's well outside the confines of sexual harassment. In a case heard by the Ohio Court of Appeals, a former hospital employee claimed that he was wrongfully fired for the use of a personal cellphone at work.
He said that he had taken a photo of a patient to document mistreatment and bring the issue to the attention of the hospital. The hospital said that regardless of any alleged mistreatment, the move violated a hospital ban on employee use of personal cellphones in the workplace.
In the ruling released on May 23, 2011, the court upheld his dismissal, saying the employee "was not involved in any criminal investigation nor did he attempt to institute such an investigation" at the time of his firing.
After the ruling, the Ohio Employer's Law Blog noted the durability of regulatory bans on personal cellphones in the workplace by detailing two forms in which they might appear:
- An outright ban on mobile phones in the workplace.
- A ban on the taking of photographs in the workplace.
"Moreover, the ability of these mobile devices to readily connect with social networks like Facebook or Twitter increases the risks posed by these tiny cameras," the blog also noted.
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Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.
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