The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has found probable cause that a dozen Minneapolis librarians were subjected to a sexually hostile work environment triggered by pornography on the Internet.
The discrimination ruling, which the EEOC made Thursday, came after a complaint the librarians brought last month against the Minneapolis Central Library, where they all work.
The 12 librarians - 11 women and one man - accused the library of being a "hostile, offensive, palpably unlawful working environment," where images of sex, child pornography and child rape were routine, as were incidents of foundling by some library patrons at computers.
"The library has until June 4 to respond [to the EEOC findings]. If they don't, I guess the EEOC will ask the Justice Department to bring a lawsuit," Robert S. Halagan, attorney for the librarians, said in a telephone interview. He acknowledged the library already has taken some steps to improve the conditions at the Minneapolis library.
"The situation there was undoubtedly the worst of any public library in the country. These were not just complaints about pictures on a screen," the lawyer said.
"There was a whole range of [offensive] behaviors that went on. The library has 30 computers, and, at any given time, 25 of them were manned by guys in trenchcoats," he said.
And despite complaints from the librarians and parents of children who use the library, Mr. Halagan said, "The library chose to do nothing for three years."
The EEOC's opinion was hailed by the Family Research Council (FRC), which put much of the blame for the conditions at the Minneapolis Central Library on the American Library Association. The FRC said in a statement that the library group "promotes unrestricted access by anyone, regardless of age, to all of the materials available on the Internet regardless of content, including the most deviant pornography."
An ALA official yesterday declined to say whether that represented a correct interpretation of the organization's position.
"We knew it was just a matter of time before some dedicated librarians would stand up to the American Library Association and rescue their library. Our hats are off to the "Minneapolis 12, " said Jan LaRue, senior director of legal studies at the FRC.
"The EEOC's decision is both legally correct and amply justified," she added.
In their complaint, the librarians told of "hard-core pornographic" Web sites left unattended and open for anyone to see; graphic printouts left on tables; and situations in which children were exposed to images of bestiality and child rape.
The librarians noted that anyone strolling through the institution could see pornography of computers. While some computers feature polarized privacy screens, those screens don't prevent anyone directly in front of the computer terminal from seeing things he may find offensive.
"very few libraries have utilized blocking technology on computers due to the policies and pressure of the American Library Association," the FRC said in a statement.
Mr. Halagan argues that the librarians' case is "not a First Amendment issue," because they are complaining about some materials that lack constitutional protection and about behaviors that are criminal.
He said the 12 librarians who brought the complaint against the library are among about a hundred who work at the city's central branch. He said approximately 95 percent of the full staff supported taking the action.
Mr. Halagan said his clients were concerned about an incident involving a mother and her 5-year -old son, who visited the library together.
The mother, he said, immediately went to a computer and was confronted by pornography. Her son did the same at a separate computer.
He said the library should have made it clear to the mother that state law prohibits minors from having access to pornographic material and that she was also responsible for watching over the child. But the library did nothing, said Mr. Halagan.
But library officials showed more respect for the law in a case in which someone left a printout of child pornography on a library table, said Mr. Halagan.
"In that recent incident, the library took the information to the FBI and filed a complaint," he said.
Note: Dulles NOW was the first and only leftist feminist group to recognize that Internet pornography in Public Libraries was a violation of sexual harassment laws under Title VII.