Four women are suing the city of Burbank for allegedly making them change in a shared room, where a male city employee videotaped them while they were undressed.
The lawsuit filed by the law firms of Paul Mones and Taylor & Ring alleges that the city's policy forcing lifeguards at the Verdugo Aquatic Facility to change in the same room allowed Arturo Ponce Montano to spend months secretly recording the women, two of whom were minors at the time.
According to the lawsuit, lifeguards at the aquatic facility were forced to change in a shared "lifeguard office," despite the fact that the facility has separate restrooms for men and women, all of which have areas where people can change.
That "lifeguard office," the lawsuit claims, was "one room with a refrigerator, sink, and microwave oven." In addition, the room's door did not lock, which "many times" caused people to walk in on the women while they were changing.
One of the women was 16 and another 17 when someone discovered Montano's cellphone secretly recording the room June 22, 2016, the suit alleges. The other two women were 21 at the time.
"I think what happened to them was traumatic," said Mones, an attorney for the women. "It's very clear that what happened to them is emotionally difficult and caused them great pain."
The lawsuit says that the women believe Montano may have shared their images. "I even think there could be people out there that were photographed that don't even know they were photographed," Mones said.
Top news of the day
In a statement, the city of Burbank acknowledged that an employee found a hidden cellphone that belonged to Montano in the lifeguard office and reported it to a supervisor. The supervisor called police, who arrested Montano. He "was convicted on seven criminal counts including annoying and molesting minors under the age of 18 and criminal invasion of privacy" and fired from his job at the aquatic facility, Burbank spokeswoman Simone McFarland said in the statement.
The city contends, however, that there "was no evidence that the video tapes were ever shared, disseminated or displayed to others according to the police investigation."
But the lawsuit also claims that prior to the discovery of the hidden cellphone, supervisors had received numerous complaints about Montano's conduct toward female employees, including such things as "sexual name-calling and inappropriate touching."
After the women filed their claims of damages to the city on December 19, 2016, they had their work hours reduced, the lawsuit alleges. The women's fellow employees and supervisors also ignored city policies that prohibit retaliation based on sex, as well as sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment, according to the lawsuit.
The city said it had not received a copy of the suit, but based on information provided in a release from the women's attorneys, they disagreed "with many of the assertions in the press release including retaliation and prior knowledge of alleged intrusion while staff were changing."
Burbank "has a policy that staff were not to change in the 'lifeguard office,'" the city said in its statement, but it was unclear whether that policy took effect only after Montano's actions were discovered, as the lawsuit claims. Montano could not be reached for comment.
The women are now seeking unspecified punitive damages from the city and Montano for financial losses as a result of lost salaries and benefits, as well as for "emotional distress, humiliation, mental anguish and embarrassment, as well as the manifestation of physical symptoms" that resulted from Montano's and the city's actions.