Family of former dance student sues janitor for hidden camera in dance studio

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- The former Huntsville janitor who planted hidden cameras at Ann’s Studio of Dance, WHNT News 19’s office and other area businesses is being sued by the family of a dance student.

The lawsuit alleging negligence was filed Wednesday in Madison County Circuit Court  against Jeremy Joseph Nelson and Nelson’s former employer, James Starkey, owner of Sanitary Systems.

Starkey spoke briefly to WHNT News 19 and said he hasn't seen the complaint.

The lawsuit also seeks to establish a class action claim involving all minors who were students at Ann’s Studio of Dance while Nelson was a custodian at the school.

Nelson was arrested in 2014. He pleaded guilty and in June 2015 was sentenced to 140 years in federal prison on child pornography charges.

The lawsuit alleges the plaintiff, identified as Mary Doe, was a minor student at Ann’s School of Dance in August 2011. The studio had a contract with Starkey’s company to provide cleaning services.

“In his position as a custodian at the Studio, Mr. Nelson had unsupervised access to the dressing rooms and restrooms,” the lawsuit claims. “Utilizing his unfettered and unsupervised access to the minor Plaintiffs changing areas, Mr. Nelson installed a video surveillance system in restrooms and dressing rooms he was paid to clean.

“The system he installed filmed and photographed Mary Doe and other similarly-situated minor Plaintiffs without their knowledge.”

The lawsuit argues Mary Doe was a student at the dance studio for nearly two years and Nelson recorded and distributed pictures of her.

The lawsuit says Nelson’s actions were “facilitated” by Starkey’s failure to properly hire, train and supervise his employees.

The company and Nelson are covered by an insurance policy for the acts alleged, but the lawsuit argues the insurance funds won't be enough to cover all the individual claims that could arise. It seeks to establish the class action so any potential plaintiffs could receive a share of the settlement.

Attorney Eric Artrip estimates the number of dance students affected ranges between 20 and 50 girls.

Nelson still faces state charges of production of child pornography.  His trial is currently for June.

The lawsuit also alleges Starkey was negligent in retaining Nelson as an employee and it further claims invasion of privacy.

Updated on 6/7/18 to correct Nelson's name on first reference. 

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