Ann Summers staff member gets €17k over false claim she stole maid's outfit
PAYOUT: Ann Summers worker wrongly accused
A former Ann Summers employee, who claimed she had been publicly accused of trying to steal a French maid's outfit from the sex toys shop, has been awarded €17,000 damages for defamation of character.
The Circuit Civil Court heard it was a see-through parcel in shop assistant Michelle O'Neill's shoulder bag that had led another member of staff to mistakenly assume O'Neill was stealing a maid's black and white kinky outfit.
Barrister Michael Fox, counsel for O'Neill, of Killester Avenue, Artane, Dublin, told Mr Justice Matthew Deery that the suspect item, wrapped in a plastic bag, turned out to be a black and white dress belonging to Ms O'Neill.
He said Gloria Kangstrom, who had searched Ms O'Neill's bag, had lifted the parcel from it and asked: "A maid's outfit?" After discovering her mistake she said to other staff: "Oh! I thought it was a French maid's outfit in her bag." Mr Fox said the words had been spoken loudly and dramatically in the presence of other employees and customers in the Lower O'Connell Street, Dublin, store, defaming Ms O'Neill.
O'Neill told the court that when she joined Ann Summers she signed a contract of employment in which she agreed that on leaving the shop on a daily basis she, like other members of staff, would open their bags and show the contents to whoever was on the till at the door.
She said the contract also included a clause which noted her agreement to her shop locker being checked randomly. The agreement specifically stated that while another member of staff could look they could not touch or delve into personal belongings.
On June 23 last year she had been leaving the store after work and had unzipped her shoulder bag so that Gloria (Ms Kangstrom) could inspect it. She had looked into it, had seen the parcel, lifted it out and had spoken the defamatory words.
Ms O'Neill told Joe Jeffers, counsel for Ann Summers, that the store had been experiencing shoplifting and there had been a suspicion of staff theft. Each employee had received specific training on dealing with suspected shoplifters.
She said she had suffered stress and humiliation as a result of the incident and had been unable to resume her work with the Ann Summers group. She had attended a counselling service at Beaumont Hospital.
Judge Deery said the store had a right to search employees bags and lockers under their contracts of employment which had led to a loss of privacy and, some might argue, a loss of dignity.
"It seems to me that, in a situation where a personal search is something that has to be borne by the employee, it is incumbent on the company to ensure it is done in an appropriate manner," he said.
The judge said there had been a problem in the store with regard to theft and in-house theft of both stock and cash was suspected. As a result Ms O'Neill felt, following the incident, that she had been cast in the role of the thief.
Judge Deery said Ms Kangstrom had undoubtedly reached into Ms O'Neill's bag and had not conducted the personal search aspect in accordance with normal procedures. He was satisfied there had been a defamation of Ms O'Neill.