IOWA CITY (AP) — Employees at a U.S. Cellular store in Iowa routinely searched customers' phones for naked pictures without their knowledge and eagerly showed them to colleagues when found, according to a former worker's sexual harassment lawsuit.
Lisa Blazek, who worked as a retail consultant at a store in the northwest Iowa city of Spencer from 2007 to 2010, alleges that the first thing employees did when customers brought in their phones for service was to scroll through their photos to "try and find naked or sexually explicit photos."
"If photos of that nature were found, they would show them throughout the store," Blazek wrote in a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, filed as part of an amended lawsuit in federal court last week. "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."
Blazek, 32, said she has been shown pictures of a woman masturbating, a man lying on a bed naked and "other pornographic materials" from customers' phones.
Lawyers representing the company and four employees named in the lawsuit denied Blazek's allegations in a court filing Thursday. A company spokesman didn't immediately return messages seeking comment.
Blazek's attorney, Stanley Munger of Sioux City, said he was unaware of any similar cases.
"Every allegation of sexual harassment is important, but I think this case is unique in its facts." he said.
The case was filed last year, but was amended last week to include more detailed allegations against one of the defendants.
In an unusual move, U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett told lawyers for both sides in November that he was using the dispute as a case study for an employment discrimination class he teaches at Drake University. With their consent, he sealed some key filings until the end of the class in June.
Blazek's lawsuit said that being subjected to customers' sexual photos was just one of many troubling aspects in a workplace where she said there was nonstop sexual harassment, which was then covered up by the company after she complained.
Blazek alleges two male co-workers frequently talked about their own sex lives and those of customers and asked her about her genitalia and sexual positions she favored. She also alleges that one told her to show him her breasts. After she complained to the store manager, she said he told her she'd have to deal with it since she was the one who was bothered, she claims, and also warned that his job would be in jeopardy if she complained to higher-ups.
Blazek is seeking to be compensated for lost pay and health benefits, suffering and emotional distress and additional punitive damages to deter similar conduct.
Munger said Blazek, who is married and has two young sons, has gone back to school and does not have another job.