When Missouri bookkeeper Jill Cottrill discovered that her supervisor had been watching her use the restroom through a peephole several times a day over a four-year period, she was a bit upset to say the least. And in April 2006 she and another female employee filed suit against their employer, MFA Inc., alleging the company contributed to a hostile work environment.
While an employee at MFA, a regional agriculture cooperative, Cottrill's supervisor Scott Adkins constructed a peephole from his personal break room to the women's bathroom. After other employees discovered the peephole, MFA devised a plan to catch Adkins in the act by installing a camera in his break room. The employees then caught Adkins looking through the peephole when Cottrill entered the bathroom, and the company fired him. The women then sued their company, accusing it of creating a hostile work environment.
The women sued in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. However, they lost their case on summary judgment because Cottrill was not aware of the peeping when it occurred.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit relied on its 1993 decision Harris v. Forklift Sys. Inc., which found that: "[I]f the victim does not subjectively perceive the environment to be abusive, the conduct has not actually altered the conditions of the victim's employment, and there is no Title VII violation."
The court found that since Cottrill "did not subjectively perceive the peeping," she couldn't rely on the act to establish that her work environment was hostile.