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Tamar Hage was horrified to learn that a bare-breasted photo of her had been used in Seattle alt weekly The Stranger's 'Drunk of the Week' feature last December. Especially considering she had been 2,000 miles away at the purported time of the photo, celebrating her grandmother's 90th birthday in Pittsburgh. So she did what anyone else in her position would do -- she sued the magazine for invasion of privacy and emotional distress.
But that's where the straightforward lawsuit goes sideways. The Stranger never identified the woman in the photo by name, and the photo may not be of Hage at all.
Drunk of the Week was a running column from photographer Kelly O'Neil that regularly featured inebriated Seattle bar patrons and party goers. In an early December 2015 edition, a photo (since removed) appeared of a woman's face and bare breast, with a caption rehashing to a Thanksgiving party where attendants drank "champagne, whiskey, and 'mystery punch'" and were given cover using Peanuts characters as pseudonyms. The caption concluded, "What a joy to see TWO nipple slips instead of just one!" (The nipple was blocked out in the print version, but shown online.)
Hage claims the photo is of her. Her lawsuit claims "[t]he photograph included the Plaintiff's face and bare breast," and that Hage "began to receive communications from her family, friends and former work colleagues who recognized Plaintiff in the Drunk of the Week piece and saw the topless photo of her." Hage never gave The Stranger permission to publish the photo, and publicity from the Drunk of the Week post caused her to "suffer great emotional distress and Plaintiff manifested physical symptoms arising from her emotional distress."
When Hage first contacted The Stranger, however, she was assured that the photo wasn't of her. General Manager Laurie Saito emailed Hage to tell her it was of a woman named "Lisa" from Michigan and attached a signed release form. "I do agree you bear a striking resemblance to Lisa in the photo that ran in Kelly's column and understand the confusion," Saito said in her email, "but I want to reassure you that it is not you."
So who was it? Hage claims it was a friend of O'Neil's, Lisa Marceau Lorincz, who "denies ever signing a release for defendant O'Neil [,] denies ever being the subject of a photograph where her bare breast and nipple are exposed," and, in fact, "was undergoing breast cancer treatment, had not yet undergone reconstruction surgery, and could not have been the subject of a photograph depicting a bare breast and nipple at that time."
Hage is also suing The Stranger for defamation and false light, which means if the photo is of her, she'll need to prove the captions are false. And if the photo is in fact of someone else, her case may be fall apart entirely. The trial is set for September 2017, when things could start to get really interesting.
(O'Neil's Drunk of the Week column was pulled in February, and The Stranger claims she no longer works for the magazine.)
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