Starbucks Sued for Spy Cam in Bathroom

5-year-old daughter found camera under D.C. Starbucks sink.

September 20, 2011, 11:52 AM

Sept. 20, 2011— -- A Norfolk, Va., man has sued Starbucks after his 5-year-old daughter found a "spy cam" in one of its bathrooms in Washington, D.C., making this at least the third such incident this year for the coffee chain.

William Yockey, 28, is asking for $1 million for negligence, failure to supervise employees, breach of privacy and failure to inspect facilities in a timely manner.

Yockey told ABC News that he and his family were sightseeing in Washington in April when the little girl had to use the bathroom. They chose a Starbucks in Penn Quarter, blocks from the National Mall.

One of the restrooms was closed, so Yockey and his daughter used the unisex one. Yockey described the bathroom as "filthy" with paper towels strewn about.

While washing her hands, Yockey said that his daughter turned to him and said, "Daddy, there's a camera."

She was staring at a small Colby digital video camera, and Yockey said it was recording. Yockey went to the manager, who appeared surprised, and called the police.

As they waited, the manager offered Yockey coffee, which he refused.

"As if I needed my blood pressure raised," he said, joking.

Police found the device under a U-shaped drain pipe in the restroom and confirmed that it was on and recording. It's unknown who left the device and police are investigating.

Starbucks spokesman Alan Hilowitz said the company responded appropriately.

"We, as a company, take our obligation to provide a safe environment very seriously," he said. "When we were alerted, we called the police."

"It's embarrassing, humiliating even today," Yockey said. "Every father feels the same way about his little girl. [The recording] could have been all over the Internet. She could have been violated."

This isn't the first time that Starbucks has had problems with cameras in its restrooms. A man was arrested in May for placing a camera in a California Starbucks restroom and recording more than 40 women. In June a man was arrested for putting a camera in a Starbucks restroom in Florida. In 2009 in New York, a Starbucks employee was caught spying on people in bathrooms with a camera.

Starbucks' Hilowitz said such incidents are "extremely rare" in the context of the company's 17,000 stores.

But Yockey's lawyer, Hank Schlosberg, and his client were less upset about the camera than the maintenance of Starbucks' facilities.

"There is no excuse for this. Any place which allows itself to have bathrooms has to do inspections for health purposes," Schlosberg said. "To say that they're not responsible to clean their bathrooms is criminal."

Hilowitz said company policy dictates how often bathrooms are inspected.

Yockey, however, said that one Starbucks told him that "they clean it when they get around to it."

There is no trial date set, although a court has rejected Starbucks' motion to dismiss the case.

Yockey said that the incident did much to change the way he views public facilities. He can't walk into a restroom without meticulously checking the entire area.

"It's not safe to use the bathroom in public anymore apparently," Yockey said.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events