Clearwater Marine Aquarium employees ‘accidentally’ recorded changing, board investigating

Pinellas County

CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — The Clearwater Marine Aquarium has hired an independent law firm to determine how a number of female employees were accidentally recorded as they changed their clothes, according to a spokesperson.

CMA board chairman Paul Auslander confirmed the investigation into the December 2020 recording over the phone Tuesday. He tells 8 on Your Side the incident came to light after a former employee sent the board an email in June.

Auslander says Vice President of Operations and Zoological Care Mike Hurst showed the video to CEO Frank Dane. They then deleted the video.

The law firm hired by CMA interviewed current and former employees and conducted a forensic investigation on a number of computers and other devices at the aquarium to ensure the video hadn’t been shared and wasn’t downloaded in one form or another.

Hurst had been on paid administrative leave while the firm was conducting the investigation. He resigned on July 31.

Auslander says the board is still looking at whether any other employees should be disciplined.

“The investigation ultimately confirmed that there was no intentional, inappropriate conduct by CMA employees,” Auslander said. “Unfortunately, there were missteps by CMA staff which led to the delay in bringing the issue to light. It is unacceptable that it took many months for this to come to the board’s attention and for the facts to be properly investigated. We are addressing these missteps and continue to implement solutions.”

Auslander also told 8 on Your Side that CMA plans to bring in an independent firm to review where the facility has surveillance cameras and where it has cameras it doesn’t need. The incident in question happened in a utility room where some might not expect a camera to be.

Auslander said that he briefed the workers involved on the investigation’s findings.

“Throughout this process we have attempted to avoid inflicting unwanted publicity on the workers, whose privacy should be protected,” Auslander said. “We hope that everyone shares that concern. Prior to any events this summer, CMA removed the camera, and is taking steps to ensure such a mistake never happens again.”

Charles Gallagher is an attorney and legal expert who is not representing any of the women involved. He says in certain areas of the workplace, employees should expect to be recorded.

“Say you have an open area where there is a register so they are monitoring whether cash is being taken,” he said. “An office context for security purposes. Those are rational reasons to have video surveillance.”

In other areas, he believes, there should be an expectation of privacy.

“Are you in an area like a locker room where you shouldn’t be… or a restroom or a bathroom. That should never have any cameras in it.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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