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All of the restrooms we’ve visited in recent months have been interesting, but this one perhaps more so than most.
In downtown Washington D.C., it’s easy to get the sense that you’re being watched, with Secret Service vans everywhere and camera crews on random corners. But sometimes, as one family found out when visiting a Penn Quarter Starbucks, people are watching for more nefarious purposes.
Here’s what happened. In April, a five-year-old girl visiting with her family from Norfolk, Va., really needed to go to the bathroom. One of the unisex bathrooms at a very busy Starbucks on 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW had an out-of-order sign on it—-it still did yesterday—-and the other was filthy. But the father, William Yockey, decided to let her use it anyway. According to a police report, when Yockey entered the restroom to help his daughter, he found a video camera in the U-joint of the sink facing towards the toilet, turned on and recording. They called the police, who roped off the area, dusted the camera for prints, and took it away for evidence.
It wouldn’t be the first time Starbucks has had peeping Tom (or Tammie) problems. Incidents have been reported in a handful of other cities over the last year, including San Diego and Glendora, Calif., West Hartford, Conn., and Brandon, Fla.—-where the alleged perpetrator committed suicide before he could be brought to trial.
It seems unlikely at this point that the police will find a suspect. Still, Yockey wasted no time in taking legal action, suing Starbucks for three million dollars in damages. He has since withdrawn that claim, and is now just pursuing counts of negligence and invasion of privacy, charging that the Starbucks should have checked the bathroom often enough to discover the camera before it had a chance to scandalize his daughter. “When they have a unisex bathroom, there is an increased obligation to check them,” says their attorney Hubert Schlosberg. “We believe that it was an employee. But frankly, even if it wasn’t an employee, it doesn’t matter.”
The court has rejected Starbucks’ motions to dismiss the case, which may make it to a jury trial if not settled first. The company argues that Schlosberg and Yockey have failed to prove that their employees did anything wrong or had any knowledge of the incident. According to a Starbucks spokeswoman, there is no set frequency for staff to check and clean the restrooms.
“It depends on how busy the store is,” she says. “Certainly there’s an expectation that they are doing it regularly.”
Oddly, when I visited this Starbucks’ restroom yesterday, it had two Johnny Walker Black Label ads taped to the wall. Perhaps someone had stuck them there since staff last cleaned, or perhaps they just didn’t think to remove them. After a quick scan, however, at least there were no hidden cameras. It’s going to become a habit.