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Dispute Bared In Voyeur Dorm Lawsuits

TAMPA – The operators of one of Tampa’s largest adult- oriented Internet businesses is locked in a fierce legal battle with two of its former models, and now the case is raising some legal eyebrows over the work rights of others who bare their bodies on the Web.

Voyeur Dorm L.C. is suing in Hillsborough County Circuit Court two of its former models, Laura Spell and Stephanie Piccolo of Brandon, for joining a competitor’s site and violating their employment contracts’ noncompete clauses. Voyeur Dorm operates a subscription-based Web site that allows customers to watch young women at work and play via Internet cameras in a Tampa home.

Meanwhile, in U.S. District Court in Tampa, Spell, Piccolo and former model Arline Lindsey have filed suit against Voyeur Dorm for failing to pay them overtime. Lawyers for the parties either declined to comment or did not return phone calls.

University of Florida law Professor George Dawson says noncompete clauses are common in business, but he’s never heard them exercised in the way they are being invoked in the case.

`Some courts are going to have to hold their nose even to talk about this,” he said.

Voyeur Dorm is considered a pioneer in voyeuristic adult Web sites. David Marshlack and Bruce Hammil founded the site, www.voyeurdorm.com late 1990s, setting up 34 videocameras for six college-age women in Tampa for 24 hours a day. Customers can watch the young women study, shower, sunbathe and sleep for $39.95 a month. Voyeur Dorm’s popularity triggered the entrepreneurs to set up similar subscription Web sites, including a site featuring young men and also owned by Marshlack and Hammil’s company, Entertainment Network Inc.

Spell and Piccolo fired the first legal salvo in May when they filed their federal suit. It claimed they regularly worked more than 40 hours a week, but were paid only a fixed weekly salary. They did not receive time-and-a-half overtime pay, they claim in the suit. On Aug. 4, U.S. District Judge Richard Lazzara made the case a “collective” action, opening it up to other models who worked for Voyeur Dorm over the past three years. As of yesterday 13 women have signed onto the case.

Shortly after the August ruling, Voyeur Dorm filed its own suit in circuit court, contending Spell and Piccolo signed employment contracts with Voyeur Dorm in February 2002 that prohibited them from joining any competing adult Web site within two years of leaving the company, court records show. When working for Voyeur Dorm models “were provided with extraordinary and specialized training in a rather unique and narrowly tailored field,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit does not specify what specialized training the models received. Marshlack’s attorney, Aubrey Dicus, did not return calls this week. Attorneys at Shankman and Westerman, who represent the women, declined to comment.

Whatever their training, both women left the company in March and went to work for Voyeur Cam Friends, a rival Fort Lauderdale-based site that offers customers its own pictures of young women for $29.95 a month, according to the suit. That move, Voyeur Dorm claims, violated the models’ noncompete agreements. The women have stopped appearing on Voyeur Cam Friends, according to court documents.

Another salvo came Sept. 11, when Spell and Piccolo countersued in circuit court, claiming Voyeur Dorm’s lawsuit was filed in retaliation for their overtime suit.

If it was, in fact, a retaliatory act it would violate the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, their countersuit argues. On Wednesday, a circuit court judge dismissed the women’s countersuit on technical grounds, but gave them the right to refile.

Dawson, the law professor, said Voyeur Dorm’s noncompete clause lawsuit raises some intriguing questions.

Judges often will honor noncompete clauses as long as they are narrowly constructed and don’t prevent an employee from making a living, he said.

Noncompete clauses often have a geographic limitation. For example, an employee might be prohibited from joining a competing business within a certain region, Dawson said.

The Voyeur Dorm case is unique, he said, because it concerns a narrow segment of business: voyeuristic adult Web sites. But it is geographically broad because the Internet is boundless.

If the women were precluded from modeling for any voyeur site anywhere, it might be argued as impeding their ability to make a living, Dawson said.

To Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, which pushes for human rights in the workplace, the Voyeur Dorm case is clear- cut.

Noncompete clauses are appropriate when an employee is given extraordinary training or is privy to complicated, secret company information, particularly in high-tech industries, Maltby said.

But Maltby could not imagine what kind of extraordinary training the Voyeur Dorm models received.

“All these girls are selling is their beautiful bodies, and they didn’t get that from their employers,” Maltby said.

 

 

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