Naked City

Hot Pix Swap at Walgreens?

In a civil lawsuit filed March 23 in district court, two women allege that at least three local Walgreens drug store employees broke the law by making and distributing extra prints of sexually oriented photographs the women took to two North Austin stores for photo developing. "The store had a management-approved 'policy,'" said attorney Derek Howard. "At least one manager told employees to keep an eye out for sexually explicit photos – 'good shots' – and to make duplicates" to share among employees at several local Walgreens stores. According to the lawsuit, two women – identified only by their initials, A.G. and L.I. – each took film to two different Walgreens stores for processing over a two-month period last summer. But, "[u]nbeknownst [to the women] and without their permission," photo lab employees at the two stores "made extra copies of the photographs for the use and enjoyment of themselves and other Walgreens employees."

Additionally, the suit alleges, the photos were given to employees at a third store, on Research Boulevard, where "the photographs were shown and circulated to many employees of that Walgreens store, including supervisors and managers." The lawsuit does not reveal details of how the two women discovered that their photos had been shared so widely, but Howard said that a former Walgreens employee, who resigned out of disgust, approached him with details of the ongoing scheme. "One of their employees came to me absolutely repulsed by what was going on," he said.

Howard alleges that photo lab employees at the Research store had a file containing more than 150 sexually oriented photos taken by customers that were kept in an unlocked cabinet where store employees could access them at any time. The photos – ranging from a backyard bathing-suit shot to a picture of a young woman in a tub surrounded by rose petals to explicit shots of couples having sex – were all made available without the knowledge or permission of the individual customers, Howard said, and he still doesn't know what else the employees may have done with them.

"The full scope of the dissemination by Walgreens and its employees of the sensitive and personal photographs is unknown," he wrote in the legal petition. "A.G. is understandably concerned that her private photographs may be sold for profit, posted on the Internet, and/or distributed among members of the Austin community." The suit charges Walgreens and three individual employees with negligence, invasion of privacy, and violations of the state's Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

Walgreens corporate spokesman Michael Polzin said that the company is "deeply concerned" about the allegations and has begun its own internal investigation. He said that Walgreens has been in the photo developing business for nearly 100 years and that its stores develop nearly 2 billion photos each year. "First and foremost, we respect our customers' rights to privacy," he said, and copying customer photographs is a "clear violation" of store policy. Polzin said that all photo-lab employees, including managers, are required to acknowledge the company's privacy policy each time they log onto photo-lab computers. He said that the policy, which automatically appears on the computer screen, says in part that "all photos are the property of the customer" and that prints should not be made "for any other reason" than for sale to a customer. "For something like this to happen is extremely unusual."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Derek Howard, Michael Polzin, Walgreens, photo lab

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