The California Court of Appeal, in its recent decision in Schmidt, et al. v. Superior Court, County of Ventura 2020 Cal. App. LEXIS 54 (January 22, 2020), affirmed the trial court’s ruling in favor of the employer, the Ventura County Superior Court.

Two court employees alleged that a security guard employed by a private company sexually harassed them during the courthouse entry screening process.

The Court of Appeal acknowledged in its opinion that the “slow and intrusive security process could annoy employees.” This annoyance was also noted at the trial court level, indicating that long-term employees, in particular, found the screenings frustrating and a sign of distrust.

The plaintiffs alleged that one of the security guards treated them inappropriately on a regular basis. The women testified that the guard would hold the screening wand over their breasts, pelvis, and buttocks for long periods of time, sometimes in a sexual manner, even when the metal detector did not detect anything. One of the plaintiffs claimed that the guard “dumped and searched” her bag, over-scrutinized her belongings, and refused to let her enter the courthouse with sewing scissors. The other plaintiff alleged that the guard got too close to her face and yelled a greeting to her in an intimidating way.

Both women reported these incidents to Human Resources. However, when Human Resources reviewed weeks of video footage from the relevant time period, there was no footage that matched the plaintiffs’ accounts; to the contrary, some footage directly contradicted their allegations. The women subsequently filed a lawsuit against their employer for sexual harassment and hostile work environment. The security guard was not named in the lawsuit.

Following a bench trial, the trial court found that the plaintiffs failed to prove their claim for sexual harassment, specifically stating that the video evidence “clearly refutes” the plaintiffs’ claims. The Court of Appeal agreed.

Employers do not always have the benefit of video surveillance to capture every interaction in the workplace. However, if an incident with an alleged harasser may have been videotaped or otherwise recorded, employers should act quickly and carefully to preserve the digital evidence in the event of a claim.

If you have questions about employee harassment complaints or preserving digital evidence, contact a Jackson Lewis attorney.