A very strange story appeared in the Sunday World about employees of a Tesco supermarket in Limerick secretly photographing customers and ridiculing them on Facebook. According to the report, which is a little confusing, they made a video of a vulnerable transgendered man with mental health problems and published this footage with disparaging comments about him.
The screenshot is hard to read, so let me transcribe.
Employee’s initial comment is this: What’s the deal around Limerick city this fella was bold as brass —
Random Commenter: From what [deleted] doesd be sayin, the seem to be cumin in to see you haha (smiley)
Employee: That’s the Butch Spanish thing fucked that yolk (sic) out of it.
Random Commenter: Creepshow! is that the one with the massive sticky outy bushy eyebrows?
Employee : Mad for [deleted] this one.
Random Commenter : No. He / she asks her beauty tips [deleted] sorry too funny.
Random Commenter : Hahhaha [deleted] your a gas man U no that. Ha.
Commenter: ahh lads I feel sorry for him. he told me his family used to slang him.
I think the paper got certain facts wrong. The man is probably a cross-dresser rather than transgendered, but it hardly makes any difference. The whole point is that if this happened, it was a clear assault on a person’s right to personal dignity.
Tesco’s reaction was rather limp, I thought. Apparently, they’ve launched a probe, which is something you’d normally associate with NASA, but this is probably just tabloid-speak. I presume Tesco said they’d investigate, or words to that effect.
Tesco and the alleged perpetrators would need to be clear on this: taking a person’s picture is perfectly legal but publishing it without that person’s permission is not. Publishing mocking comments associated with that picture is very likely to be defamatory.
If the reports are true, and I suspect that the Sunday World is confident of its facts, it leaves Tesco open to a major claim, even if, as Denning might have said, the perpetrator was on a frolic of his own. It also leaves Tesco open to prosecution under equality law, because this appears to be a clear case of somebody being oppressed for his sexual orientation.
Will Tesco want to take that risk?
More significantly, will any of us want to visit the Tesco shop at Arthur’s Quay, knowing that a staff member might secretly be taking pictures of us to post on Facebook later?
I’ll be avoiding Tesco for the foreseeable future, until I know for sure.
How about you?