A class-action lawsuit spurred by former Saanich grocery store employees will proceed against the assistant manager who secretly filmed them in the bathroom, and against the local grocer franchise.
The suit targets the actions of Matthew Charles Schwabe, while another defendant is the Red Barn at Mattick, which the plaintiffs say is “vicariously liable” for enabling and participating in a toxic and misogynist workplace.
Justice Brian MacKenzie’s March 13 decision certified the case as a class-action suit, which could include around 13 plaintiffs, according to their lawyer Sean Hern.
Schwabe was sentenced to 15 months in jail in November 2021 after he pled guilty to secretly filming women in washrooms and posting naked photos of them to a Russian revenge porn site.
Between 2012 and 2014, Schwabe filmed female employees using a hidden camera in the bathroom of the Saanich grocery store where he was an assistant manager. He also filmed his female roommate undressing and using the washroom at his home.
In posting videos showing the women’s buttocks and genitals, Schwabe also challenged viewers to identify the women. The ages of the nine victims in the criminal case ranged from 17 to 23 at the time their photos were posted. Those victims said during Schwabe’s sentencing that they have constant and severe anxiety.
One woman said being filmed crosses her mind every time she uses the bathroom and others fear being watched or tracked down.
The plaintiffs claim they had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the Red Barn washroom and staff room, which was violated by Schwabe recording them. Schwabe has declined to respond to the suit or participate in any way.
The plaintiffs accuse the Red Barn location of negligence, purporting the store’s management at the time knew or should have known about Schwabe’s sexualized conduct, which ultimately became criminal. They say the workplace culture enabled Schwabe’s actions.
Plaintiffs said Schwabe would often say that “he could not help” making comments about the clothing and appearances of female workers due to the fact he was “surrounded by a bunch of hot young girls in tight pants.” Another plaintiff accused the man of exposing his penis to her for more than five minutes and blocking the only exit as the two opened the store one morning in March 2013.
That employee reported the conduct to a manager and said the superior replied with “boys will be boys” before the manager gave the worker’s phone number to Schwabe. The employee said the result of her bringing the issue further up the chain to the general manager was her hours were significantly reduced the next year, until she was fully removed from the schedule.
The claim also cites a man, then a worker in the meat department, who alerted a 16-year-old employee that a former owner watched her as she bent over and commented on the girl’s appearance. After the girl reported the incident, the male worker said the then-owner told him he didn’t appreciate being “ratted out.”
The Red Barn at Mattick’s response in the claim says it wasn’t negligent and there’s no basis it’s vicariously liable because Schwabe’s behaviour was unforeseeable and his wrongs were unauthorized.
With files from Jane Skrypnek
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