By Al Norman
As the Christmas shopping season mercifully ends, Wal-Mart was caught in the middle of an improbable holiday peep show of its own making. In a town called Lower Nazareth, no less.
The early residents of Lower Nazareth Township, an Eastern Pennsylvania farming community, were a highly religious group, and displayed their faith by naming their community after the biblical town of Nazareth. The town doesn't often get in the national news---but their Wal-Mart superstore literally put them on camera.
According to LeHigh Valley Live, managers at Wal-Mart secretly installed a camera in their unisex bathroom. The hidden camera was discovered by seven "associates" at the Wal-Mart Tire and Lube Center in the store---and these employees have now sued both Wal-Mart and the four store managers who ordered the camera installed. Three of the plaintiffs still work at Wal-Mart supercenter # 2252. The lawsuit was filed in Northampton County, Pennsylvania Court. According to the lawsuit, the workers discovered an "off the shelf" camera hidden behind a box in the Tire and Lube Center bathroom.
They were not drawn to this scene by a brightly shining star in Nazareth, but by the crude way in which the camera was mounted on a shelf, behind a box with a peep hole drilled through it. The lawyer for the plaintiffs says he has a picture of the camera. "They literally discovered it" on March 31, 2008, the attorney said.
When confronted by the workers, the store's manager initially denied that a camera had been placed in the bathroom. But when he was shown a photo of the camera, he revealed that it was placed there to prevent shoplifting. "Loss prevention in a bathroom?" the plaintiff's lawyer asked the media. "This is absolutely outrageous. It's just plain inappropriate. There's got to be something done. To have these people believe they can do this is beyond all comprehension to me," the lawyer told the Associated Press.
The lawsuit states that Wal-Mart broke state and federal wiretapping laws, and violated their workers' and customers' privacy rights. The filing also charges Wal-Mart with intimidating the workers, forcing them to work in unsafe conditions, wrongful termination of several employees who complained about the camera, and violating their civil rights.
According to the litigation, the videotaping in the bathroom went on for at least several days before it was discovered. The restroom where the camera was placed served employees as well as customers.
Apparently efforts were made with Wal-Mart to settle this case, but no agreement could be reached. In the process, however, Wal-Mart fired two of its workers for putting the camera in the bathroom. "They violated our policy," a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Morning Call newspaper. "When store management learned of the camera, it was immediately removed." Yet the lawsuit claims that it was store management that installed the camera in the first place.
Named in the lawsuit were Wal-Mart's district manager, the store manager and two assistant managers.
It is not clear if Wal-Mart's policy is not to place cameras in bathrooms---or simply not to be caught doing it. The company says it took swift action to fire the workers who came up with the idea to secretly film bathroom occupants without their knowledge. Yet the company acted slowly in responding to the threat of a lawsuit, since this incident took place roughly 21 months ago.
Rather than quietly settle this lawsuit, Wal-Mart now has its policy on bathroom privacy being discussed in the national media. Wal-Mart shareholders are no doubt blushing over the company's indiscretion in not settling this case 'off camera.'
This story from a township called Lower Nazareth is not the kind of Christmas tale Wal-Mart was wishing for this holiday season. The 'off the shelf' camera used in this incident most likely has been placed back on the shelf at Wal-Mart, and marked down from its everyday low price for immediate clearance--with the tape removed, of course.
Al Norman is the founder of Sprawl-Busters. His website is http://www.sprawl-busters.com. He has written two books about his 16 year campaign against big box stores.