A class-action lawsuit targeting a former assistant manager at a Red Barn Market grocery store who recorded images of young women in bathrooms and published them on a Russian porn site can proceed, a B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled.
The plaintiffs would largely be former Red Barn employees. Their images were recorded in places where they could reasonably have been expected to be nude, such as public or private washrooms.
Matthew Charles Schwabe pleaded guilty in the case and served a 15-month jail sentence starting in November 2021, which is being followed by two years of probation.
The offences occurred from 2012 to 2016 at three Red Barn locations and at Schwabe’s home.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Brian MacKenzie certified the lawsuit and said it can proceed against Schwabe and Red Barn at Mattick’s Ltd.
At Schwabe’s sentencing, the court was told that images of nine victims were published on a Russian porn site, along with photos from their Facebook profiles. Schwabe used the women’s first or last names and said they were from Victoria in some of the posts.
Plaintiffs’ lawyer Sean Hern said having a class-action lawsuit gives the women a greater opportunity “to locate and involve the seven unidentified victims that the court talks about in the case.”
All told, there are 13 potential members of the class action — a relatively small number — which the plaintiffs say gives the best chance for a “fair and efficient” resolution.
“It’s much more economical to proceed as a group rather than segment it,” Hern said.
The decision on whether to certify the class-action approach is coming now because it couldn’t go ahead while criminal proceedings were underway, he said.
It still has to be determined how much in damages will be sought.
The two women who launched the suit brought the situation to the attention of Saanich police in February 2016, and identified explicit images of themselves in a Red Barn washroom — along with other women who they identified as store employees.
A search warrant was subsequently executed at Schwabe’s residence in June 2016.
MacKenzie’s decision says that one of the two main plaintiffs was hired as a cashier in 2007 at the age of 15 and worked at the store until 2012, while the other was hired as a cashier at 17 and worked at the store through 2014.
Both described “inappropriate and sexualized behaviour” directed at them and other female employees, the decision said, while a third worker said Schwabe exposed his penis to her.
Red Barn has said there is no basis to find it “vicariously liable” in the case because Schwabe’s actions were unforeseeable, but MacKenzie accepted the plaintiffs’ submission that it was reasonable to foresee that inappropriate conduct exhibited by Schwabe “would evolve into more intrusive activities.”