Sunday 4 December 2016

Woman awarded €17,000 in dust-up with store over kinky French maid outfit

Ray Managh and Louise Hogan

Published 02/06/2011 | 05:00

A former shop assistant was yesterday awarded €17,000 in damages after claiming she had been publicly accused of trying to steal a French maid's outfit from the store where she worked.

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Michelle O'Neill (40), from Killester Avenue, Artane, Dublin, was carrying a black and white dress in her shoulder bag when she left the Ann Summers store on O'Connell Street, Dublin, after work on June 23 last year.

The UK-based chain sells lingerie, sex toys and adult party wear.

Dublin Circuit Civil Court yesterday heard the see-through parcel led another member of staff to mistakenly assume Ms O'Neill was stealing a maid's black and white kinky outfit.

Barrister Michael Fox, counsel for Ms O'Neill, told Mr Justice Matthew Deery that another staff member, Gloria Kangstrom, had searched Ms O'Neill's bag and 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 store, defaming Ms O'Neill.

Ms O'Neill told the court she had signed up to a contract of employment with Ann Summers that agreed when staff members left the shop each day they would open their bags and show the contents to whoever was attending the till at the door.

It was outlined to the court that the agreement specifically stated that while another member of staff could look they could not touch or delve into personal belongings.

As she left the store after work on June 23 last year she unzipped her shoulder bag so that Ms Kangstrom could inspect it.

The court heard 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.

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.

It is understood that she has not worked since the incident.

Under cross-examination, Ms Kangstrom said she had reached into Ms O'Neill's bag, but only "after conducting the search".

Mr Justice Deery said that the store had a right to search employees' bags and lockers under their contracts of employment which had led to a loss of privacy.

"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 in-house theft of both stock and cash was suspected at the store. As a result, Ms O'Neill felt, following the incident, that she had been cast in the role of the thief.

He was satisfied there had been a defamation of the character of Ms O'Neill.

Irish Independent

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