Federal employee can be sued for installing surveillance camera in women's changing room

Gustafson v. Adkins, No. 15-1055 (7th Cir. Oct. 16, 2015).

The defendant, Adkins, is a detective working at the Chicago VA medical center. Myron Thomas, Adkins’s boss, ordered him to install a hidden surveillance camera in an office at the medical center, claiming the camera was needed to catch people who slept in the office while on duty. This office, Adkins knew, was used as a changing room by female VA officers. Thomas’s request discomfited Adkins. Asking around, he was told by others that the camera would be illegal. Nevertheless, he eventually installed the camera at the insistence of Thomas—to whose offices the video was sent for viewing.

Thankfully, the camera was eventually discovered. One of the female officers, Gustafson, sued Adkins and Thomas for violating her rights under the Fourth Amendment. Adkins, but not Thomas, moved for summary judgment. The motion was denied, and Adkins now appeals. 

The question here is whether Gustafson has a valid Bivens claim—that is, a valid claim for damages against a federal employee (here, Adkins). That question turns on whether two federal laws—the Civil Service Reform Act and the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act—provide comprehensive remedial schemes that preclude other remedies like a Bivens claim. The Seventh Circuit decides that they do not, so Gustafson has a valid Bivens claim against Adkins. Nor does qualified immunity shield Adkins, because his installation of the camera violated clearly established law.