Librarian Sues Over Porn in Her Workplace

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Barbara Ann Wilson says she is surrounded by men surfing the Internet for porn who sometimes grope her and perform lewd acts in front of children, according to a federal lawsuit she has filed against her employer -– the Birmingham Public Library in Alabama.

Willson, who has worked as a library assistant at the downtown branch for 10 years, alleges that the library is a "sexually charged hostile work environment" and the city has not done enough to protect her.

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"I don't think people realize that if you send your kids to the downtown library in cities like these, they better think twice," said Wilson's lawyer, Adam Morel. "There is stuff going on that quite frankly shocks me, and taxpayers are funding the place."

Libraries used to be sanctuaries for reading and research, but since the rise of the Internet, they are attracting a less studious crowd, says her attorney.

"The downtown library is located near a big city park and near a bus station," said Morel. "For whatever reason, they get these people in the library -- they don't have other places to be."

"They are using the computer to access hard-core porn in front of other patrons and children, and some of these people manipulate themselves in the open library," he said.

"It's going on every day and it's basically elevated," according to Morel, who said Wilson, 43, is still employed by the library. She was not available for an interview with ABCNews.com.

Morel said Wilson has been subjected to sexually aggressive comments by patrons and when she confronted them over obscene material, they became belligerent.

He said Wilson and other staffers have been told by their employer to speak to the offenders or send a message remotely when they see inappropriate web sites, or to call security guards.

"But security rolls their eyes like it's her problem," alleged Morel. "They say, 'If we are there to catch them in the act, maybe we can do something about it.'"

The librarian said she has made multiple written and oral complaints to her employer, but to no avail. She has even filed at least one police report, "maybe more," according to Morel.

In her lawsuit, Wilson has named the Birmingham Library Foundation, the board that runs the public libraries, and the City of Birmingham. She also filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission(EEOC) last October, according to Morel.

"The City of Birmingham responded that her allegations had no validity," he said. "Those responses prompted her to file suit."

ABCNews.com made numerous calls to the central branch of the Birmingham Public Library and to its administration, and to the press office at City Hall, but received no comment on the allegations.

The library's website says that it has filters on pornographic material to prevent children from accessing inappropriate sites, but Wilson's lawyer said, "They are completely useless."

Morel said those interested in downloading pornography "know how to bypass" the filters -- they ask the librarian to turn off filters set in place to protect children.

According to the lawsuit, Wilson is seeking unspecified compensation from the library and the city. She alleges that the workplace has caused her severe emotional distress and mental anguish.

"More importantly, she wants measures taken to stop the problem," said Morel.

The library's policy allows staff to end internet sessions if patrons are viewing graphic sexual images in sight of children or anything involving sex with minors or encourages others to break the law.

Supreme Court Ruled Internet Filters Are Legal

The library subscribes to a filtering service, according to its website. It can be turned off, however, at the request of any adult.

The library's policy states, "The library does not control or edit what is made available or filtered out by this service."

"The library strives to balance the rights of users to access these resources with the rights of people to work in a public environment free from disruptive sounds and offensive visuals," it says.

The American Library Association (ALA) opposes all filters, but a 2003 Supreme Court ruling upheld the constitutionality of the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) .

CIPA was designed to shield minors from seeing sexually explicit material on the Web. The court's 6-3 decision said that libraries could turn off the software at the request of an adult so as not to limit access to materials.

Filters are "about 90 to 98 percent effective," in blocking access to sexual materials, said Chris Hansen, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in New York, which opposed CIPA.

"But about 20 to 30 percent of the time they over block," he said.

The ACLU and the ALA argued before the high court that filters violate free speech and could prevent minors from accessing, for example, materials on breast cancer or the Holocaust.

But Hansen said the Wilson's lawsuit has nothing to do with free speech or filtering; it is a case of workplace harassment.

"Her concerns deal with behavior and have nothing to do with the content of the speech provided by the library," said Hansen.

He said the library could arrange the computers so others, including the librarian, didn't have to view sexual materials that they found distasteful. Libraries can also put up privacy screens, he said.

"People are grabbing and pinching her," he said. "Even if there is nothing in the library but 245 copies of the Bible, you can't pinch employees, and if she told the manager and he did nothing about it, she has a pretty good case."

Hanson said that if Wilson can prove she was sexually harassed, "we are opposed to that, and the library has an obligation to deal with it. But the fact that the patrons in the library are accessing sexual material she doesn't like is not sexual harassment."

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