(WWMT News, Twitter/jordan lynn,www.artpotato.com)
This is exactly what happened to Jordan Areaux and her boyfriend, Masyn Lehl, when they handed in their surprise pregnancy announcement photos to a Meijer grocery store photo lab in Plainwell, Michigan.
Like most new, expecting parents, they were so excited to tell their families they were expecting their first child together, so they planned something special for the Christmas day announcement. They had a photo taken of them posing against a backdrop of snow capped pines at a Christmas tree farm holding a sign with the chalk-written message: “Dear Santa July 2017.” But shortly after taking them to their local Meijer grocery store to have them developed, their pictures went viral.
They were going to slip the pictures into Christmas gifts with their announcement. “It would be the first he grandbaby in our family, and my grandma actually has cancer, so we were going to kind of surprise her,” Areaux told WWMT. Instead, they say, Meijer photo lab employees took pictures of their pictures and texted them around greater Plainwell. They say the texting chain even reached members of both their families, spoiling the whole surprise. Why might the employees have done this?
Areaux told WWMT that she went to high school with some of the women who worked at the photo lab who had allegedly taken photos of her announcement and began texting them around. “This was the screenshot that was sent to me of the photo that was taken before I had even showed anyone,” she said, as she showed WWMT a picture of her announcement that was texted out.
Areaux speculates that because some of the Meijer employees were her high school friends, they couldn’t resist spreading the news. “I think the girls were trying to start drama and be mean,” she told Michigan Live. She was sent a screenshot by a friend of one of the texts, which included her photo and the message: “Congrats?” One of Lehl’s friends also texted him about the picture, writing: “You didn’t tell me you were going to be a dad.”
Of course, it wasn’t long before Areaux figured out that the two girls were responsible. And while the Midwest retailer isn’t commenting on the specifics of what happened, they did confirm that the two workers no longer work for Meijer. Meijer said it immediately investigated after Areaux alerted management to the issue. “All photo department team members are required to adhere to a strict confidentiality policy and when this came to our attention we took it very seriously,” part of the statement read.
Areaux isn’t sorry that the girls lost their jobs, but isn’t Meijer responsible to some degree as well? The store director told her that Meijer’s employees sign paperwork acknowledging the rules prohibiting employees from taking or sharing customers’ photos. The only exception to this rule is if photos violate the law such as child porngraphy. In those situations, the management steps in and turns the images over to law enforcement to investigate. So, did the employer know about the file sharing?
Still, Areaux is critical of Meijer’s handling of her complaint. She contends the retailer kept her mostly in the dark about the investigation. It took a week and several calls after she made her initial complaint to hear back from the store director. She says he indicated the employees had been fired, but she heard through the grapevine they had actually quit. “I wanted Meijer to take this a little more seriously so it doesn’t happen again,” Areaux said.
So Areaux went to the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office. A deputy who took the report told her he couldn’t immediately say whether the employees actually broke a law. Ultimately, it’ll be up to the Allegan County Prosecutor’s office to decide whether to press charges after the investigation is completed, Allegan Undersheriff Michael Larsen told Michigan Live and The Grand Rapids Press. Whether Areaux takes further action will depend on the outcome of the police investigation, she said.
Thanks to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), consumers’ legal rights to privacy are clearly enforced in health care and education. But what about retail? Of course, shoppers have privacy when it comes to restrooms and changing rooms, but other things aren’t so clear, Nelson Miller said, associate dean of the Grand Rapids campus of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.
Might the photo lab employees have committed a crime? Could there be a civil case? While legally in a gray area, Meijer’s actions do indicate the retail chain assumes client confidentiality when it comes to printing their photos. “I’m pretty sure they are ensuring some privacy because they don’t expect employees to do this and apparently the discharge of the employees makes this clear,” Miller said. Even so, Meijer is not likely to be charged as they were unaware of their employee’s actions.
Areaux says she hasn’t contacted an attorney about her invasion of privacy. But Meijer has lost her as a customer — for now. She has yet to receive a formal apology over the incident, or even reimbursement for the photo order. After growing up shopping at Meijer, she said it felt little strange buying her groceries this week at competitor Walmart. But walking into her hometown Meijer would have been even more uncomfortable. “It’s probably going to be a while before I go back there,” Areaux said.
This wouldn’t be the first time that store workers have been accused of invading a customer’s privacy. Employees at Best Buy were once even accused of copying a woman’s racy photos. Perhaps the sad reality is that if you want privacy, you should go to a store where no one knows you. It’s a pity, but in our frivolously sharing world, technology only enhances the human instinct toward nosiness. Which, naturally, reduces your ability to trust anyone.