Plant guard, firm ordered to pay $1.4 millionA St. Croix County judge ordered a former security guard and his employer to pay $1.4 million to women whose employee badge photos the man altered and posted on pornographic Web sites.
By: Judy Wiff, Hudson Star-Observer
A St. Croix County judge ordered a former security guard and his employer to pay $1.4 million to women whose employee badge photos the man altered and posted on pornographic Web sites.
In a lengthy decision filed June 6, Judge Eric Lundell ordered Troy C. Schmidt, 666 W. 4th St., New Richmond, and Securitas Security Services USA to pay $333,333 each to three women, $75,000 apiece to another two and $50,000 apiece to five others.
Securitas notified the court Monday that it is appealing the judgment.
The case involves female employees at the Polaris Industries plant in Osceola. Schmidt, now 36, reportedly downloaded digital photos of the women and other workers onto a thumb-drive.
According to a narrative in the decision, Schmidt printed the photos, performed sex acts on them and uploaded the adulterated images to his Web site.
The decision says some of the pictures were accompanied by lewd commentary and/or the victim’s name.
Schmidt created adult Web sites with suggestive names and posted photos of about 38 women on the sites. Thirty-one were Polaris or Securitas employees. One Web site alone had nearly 300 photos.
Schmidt, who grew up in New Richmond and attended St. Croix Central High School, worked for Securitas from Sept. 30, 1997 until Nov. 2, 2005 when he was fired for inappropriate behavior.
He also worked as a reserve officer for the River Falls Police Department from December 2001 to December 2005 and as a guard for UW-River Falls Campus Security from May 2003 to mid-December 2005.
Securitas, as successor to Pinkerton, worked under contract with Polaris to provide security at its plants. Judge Lundell wrote that prior to hiring Schmidt, Securitas did a background check on him. The state of Wisconsin also did its own background check before issuing him a private security officer license, and the RFPD performed a background check.
None of the checks uncovered anything in Schmidt’s background “regarding any criminal or deviant behavior,” wrote Lundell.
Schmidt first worked as a security officer and was later promoted to account manager in charge of all other security officers at the Polaris facilities in Osceola and St. Croix Falls.
The security officers ensured that employees had badges. The plaintiffs were photographed by digital cameras. The photos were printed on ID badges and stored in the Polaris computer system.
At some point, according to the court decision, Schmidt began posting pictures of the women and other Polaris employees online.
Most were head shots, but some were random pictures taken at Polaris events. Schmidt also took at least three photos of employees’ daughters from the workers’ desks, adulterated the pictures and posted them online.
In October 2005 a member of the community discovered the online postings and told Polaris.
That same day, a Sunday, Polaris began investigating who posted the photos.
Two days later Polaris’ IT staff electronically searched a computer Schmidt had access to and located badge photos similar to the ones on the Web site.
Polaris notified Securitas. Schmidt was fired Nov. 2, 2005.
According to Lundell’s decision, “Schmidt was told that the incident should be kept quiet, that he should not discuss it with anyone, and that if he removed the pictures from his Web site, criminal charges would not be pursued.”
Lundell wrote that neither Securitas nor Polaris immediately contacted police. But on Nov. 4 one of the victims met with Osceola police.
Also, according to the judgment, Securitas didn’t contact the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing about Schmidt’s license, nor did it notify his other employers.
Negligent in supervising
The judge found that while Securitas was not negligent in hiring Schmidt, it was negligent in training and supervising him.
“These acts and omissions of Securitas in failing to adequately monitor Schmidt allowed his conduct to continue, unchecked, for approximately 18 months; an inordinate amount of time in this day and age of the Internet, spam filters, computer forensics and figurative and literal paper trail left by Schmidt at Yahoo! and elsewhere,” wrote Lundell.
According to the judgment, “Securitas permitted Schmidt to essentially police himself and later added insult to injury when it asked him to clean up his own mess by removing the offensive material from the Internet.”
Lundell determined that Securitas’ failure to take any action except to fire Schmidt “was unreasonable and constitutes negligence.”
Some images remained on the Internet even after Schmidt said he had deleted them from his Web sites.
Judge Lundell determined that Securitas impeded the criminal investigation.
Lundell awarded $333,333 apiece to Lori Maypark, Marcia Lynn See and Mary Pat Geddes, all of Osceola.
According to the judgment, the three women have all undergone extensive therapy and left their employment at Polaris, claiming emotional distress arising from a hostile workplace. Internet records show all three obtained harassment restraining orders against Schmidt.
“They were isolated from other victims and forced to defend themselves and their actions in a hostile work environment created by Securitas,” wrote the judge. “Their accounts of the humiliations, mental anguish, physical effect and damage to their reputation were convincing, as were their descriptions of continued fright, anger, grief and concern.”
The seven women who received lesser awards had all stayed on at Polaris and none sought counseling, except for one who received professional help for a few weeks from Polaris’ employee assistance program.
The $50,000 awards went to Shannon Aubart, Milltown; Amelia Cran, Milltown; Tina M. Dixon, Frederic; Julie J. Gross, Cushing; and Tami L. Majewski, Clear Lake. Lisa Christenson, New Richmond, and Brenda Johnston, Osceola, were awarded $75,000 each.
While admitting that it was a close call, Judge Lundell did not award punitive damages.