Originally created 08/20/05

Guards peeped, women allege



ATHENS, Ga. - Women working the cosmetics counter of a local department store were spied on by security guards using a hidden camera as the women undressed in their changing room, Belk contract workers allege.

A lawsuit claims that one or more of the four women, all contract workers with the Belk department store at Georgia Square Mall, had been assured by store officials that a room they used to change clothes was not monitored by the store's camera surveillance system.

But Aug. 8, a member of the store's loss prevention office told the women "they probably should not change clothes in the stockroom/office because their activities were being recorded and observed in the Belk security monitoring center," according to the lawsuit.

The employees contacted the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, and officers discovered a camera hidden atop a ceiling tile above the employees' changing area, said Athens attorney Jimmy Hurt of the Athens firm of Winburn, Lewis & Stoltz, which is representing the women.

"I think it's deplorable behavior," said Mr. Hurt, who filed the lawsuit in Clarke Superior Court.

Steve Pernotto, the executive vice president for human resources at Belk's headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., said it is corporate policy not to discuss pending litigation. He said, however, it is company policy at all Belk stores not to place fitting rooms and restrooms under surveillance.

Belk's regional manager, Royce Pittman, said the loss-prevention officers named along with the store as co-defendants, Christopher Toma and Gary R. Johnston, remain employed by Belk.