Public Safety

Police: Architect recorded employee pumping breast milk 22 times

Robert Carlson faces invasion of privacy charges

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IOWA CITY — An Iowa City architect accused in a lawsuit earlier this year of secretly recording an employee while she pumped breast milk now faces criminal charges of violating the woman’s privacy 22 times over eight months.

Robert Carlson, 67, told police he found his employee, Jessica Clark, 32, of Ely, “very beautiful and wanted to see what was underneath the (her) blouse or shirt,” according to a criminal complaint filed this week.

He faces 22 counts of invasion of privacy, an aggravated misdemeanor. Each count is punishable by up to two years in prison.

Clark sued Carlson and the Carlson Design Team in May, alleging sexual harassment, sex discrimination, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. This was after Dec. 18, when she said she found a recording device in the conference room at Carlson Design Team, 1210 S. Gilbert St., where she had been pumping breast milk.

Police obtained a search warrant for the architecture firm’s office and Carlson’s house. Police said they seized electronic devices as part of their search. Those devices contained 22 videos of separate incidents in which Clark was recorded pumping, police said.

“The female victim did not consent to these recordings and had a reasonable expectation of privacy while in the room pumping breast milk,” the complaints state.

Clark, who worked for the small firm as an intern in the summers of 2008 and 2009, took a full-time job there in 2010, the suit states. She had her first child, a son, in 2015 and pumped breast milk at the office after returning from maternity leave.

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“Breastfeeding was important for me to provide for them the best that I could,” Clark told The Gazette in an interview last month.

She did the same thing following the birth of her daughter in January 2018, regularly reserving the conference room — the only room other than the bathroom that locked — to privately pump breast milk. Pumping requires a mother to lift her shirt and expose her breasts.

Clark started noticing Carlson would frequently use the conference room immediately before her scheduled time.

“When I went to pump that day, he had just gone in there to make a personal phone call,” Clark said. “Then he left for a meeting.”

Clark went into the room to pump, but she said she had a “‘spider sense’ feeling” that something wasn’t right. After pumping, she searched the room, looking behind the TV, under chairs and behind wall art. Then she saw a tan portfolio on a chair next to where she sat. What appeared to be a pen was sticking out.

“I knew it immediately that it had to be a camera,” Clark said. “I clicked the top of the pen and it didn’t do anything. I Googled ‘spy pen’ and it was the first result.”

The internet search showed her how to use the device, which she inserted into a conference room tablet. The camera showed images of her pumping breast milk minutes earlier, Clark said.

“I couldn’t believe that it happened,” she said. “But at the same time, it was affirming that I did feel this way and this did happen.”

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At an initial court appearance Friday morning over a video link from the Johnson County Jail, Carlson was ordered released under the supervision of the Department of Correctional Services. Judge Deb Minot also ordered Carlson to undergo a psychological evaluation and have no contact with Clark.

Carlson’s attorney, Leon Spies of Iowa City, said he had not yet seen the criminal complaints and had no comment.

• Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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