I was fired after a stranger sent photos of my private text messages to my employer

A reader writes:

I’m a part-time retail employee at a clothing store, as well as a full time graduate student. I left work a couple of weeks ago, got on my bus to head home, and as always, spend the time on my phone — Facebook/Texting/Instagram, etc.

At one point, my boyfriend texted me asking if I’d left work yet. I wrote back saying something to the effect of ‘Yesssss….and I can’t be home soon enough….I’m tired and the fat cow sitting next to me is taking up half my seat as well as hers AND hasn’t heard of deodorant.”

Maybe not the nicest thing, but:
a) It was a private text message, intended for no one but the recipient.
b) It was actually, well, true. The woman WAS so obese she was pinning me against the wall and her body odour WAS absolutely disgusting. The people in front of me were actually holding their noses and I honestly was holding down trying not to dry retch.

Anyway, I got called into my boss’s office at the start of my next shift and got told that someone complained about me. I was completely puzzled because I couldn’t think of any way I’d have upset a customer…..until they showed me a series of photographs the person who must have been sitting behind me (slightly elevated due to the bus design) took of me and my phone screen saying they recognized me having served them in the store yesterday and now I was saying things like this and it reflects badly on the company and makes me look two-faced since I was polite to her yesterday and then being “nasty” about this lady.

My company replied to her by sending an email I could see on the print-outs saying it would be dealt with harshly because it was unacceptable from me. I feel like they have enabled her behaviour by taking this seriously. They’ve condoned this woman snooping over people’s shoulders and taking photos of them and their phone screen without consent. Who the hell does this woman (I know it was a woman from the name) think she is? I think it’s incredibly entitled to read over someone’s shoulder, something incredibly rude to do, and act like you have the right to be offended about what you read.

Anyway, I got fired, but I think it’s ridiculous. I wasn’t wearing anything that identified me as a member of my company at the time. Maybe it would be different if I was wearing something that identified me as an employee of the company, but I wasn’t, so quite frankly, I think I should be allowed to do and say what I want in my own time when I’m not identifying myself as a member of the company. What I do in my own time is my own business. Yes, I was nice to the email sender when working, but that is my job. I don’t see why I owe everyone a Mother Teresa approach off the clock.

I’m now struggling to find another job, because my store manager has refused to let any of the department managers give me a reference, presumably because she’s offended because, well, she’s also the type to pin the poor size 2 girl next to her against the wall!

Who was in the wrong here?

Everyone, to differing degrees.

Most of all, your employer. It’s no one’s business what you write in private text messages to other people in your personal time. You had a reasonable expectation of privacy in sending a private text message, and they’re wrong to fire you over this.

The woman behind you was out of line in reading over your shoulder, photographing your phone, and sending it to your employer. She shouldn’t have been looking at a stranger’s phone in the first place, and she must have had to make a point of trying to see what you were writing; it’s not like it was forced into her line of vision and she couldn’t help reading everything you were writing. (And even if she hadn’t been able to help it, the polite thing to do in that case is to pretend she didn’t see it — she doesn’t get to comment on, let alone photograph, someone else’s private messages just because she happened to be able to see them on public transportation.)

But your employer is worse. The woman who emailed them was a busybody, but they’re the ones who actually fired you over this. They’re totally in the wrong.

But for what it’s worth, you yourself aren’t coming out smelling like a rose here — and not because of your actions in this story, but because of your commentary on it: You have a pretty gross attitude toward overweight people. Your comment about your store manager at the end of your letter is rude and out of line. That doesn’t change the fact that you didn’t deserve to be fired for what happened, but you’re going to lose a lot of sympathy in life for talking about other people that way, and rightly so. Your boyfriend might be fine with you calling people “fat cows” (although he shouldn’t be), but making a snarky and insulting comment to a stranger (me) about your boss’s weight says to me that you’re out of touch with how kind people talk to and about each other (or possibly that you’re young enough that you haven’t learned it yet). So: Be nicer.

But yes, your company was wrong here, and that text message should have been treated as private.

{ 1,095 comments… read them below }

  1. UKAnon*

    Leaving aside the commentary (which I think Alison has dealt with really well, and I really hope doesn’t turn into a pile-on) I can see why you are so frustrated. Whatever you say or do in private to your partner should stay that way, and I do think that your employer was wrong to even listen to this, let alone fire you for it. (If you’d been in uniform then maybe, just *maybe*, there could be some grounds for disciplining you, though I personally don’t think so)

    That said, it seems like you are still really angry (and possibly embarrassed?) about this, and if it’s shining through in your email I wonder if it isn’t also shining through in your job hunt. The no references will make it tricky; the best thing you can do at this stage is explain calmly in interview why there aren’t any (“Somebody on a bus read a private text message I was sending to my partner and the company fired me for it; I hadn’t said anything which would be considered illegal or which directly hurt the business in any way”) and if you can find some strong references from before this job, or old managers who’ve moved on and can speak well of you from the employer, that will also help to mitigate it.

    I hope your job hunt goes well.

    1. Mike C.*

      That said, it seems like you are still really angry (and possibly embarrassed?) about this, and if it’s shining through in your email I wonder if it isn’t also shining through in your job hunt.

      Why would you wonder this? I see this comment come up fairly often, yet most adults are able to compartmentalize their emotions such that they don’t pop out at inappropriate times.

      1. UKAnon*

        Which is why I only wondered, and didn’t state it must absolutely definitely be completely happening. Most humans are also empathetic and able to read emotions, and how you think about a situation can absolutely colour how you respond to it, even when you’re trying. I thought it worth mentioning as a possibility in case the OP is letting on that they are angry about it, as that won’t help them in their job search.

      2. Zillah*

        I disagree. Many people – maybe even the majority of people – can’t compartmentalize as well as you’re suggesting. It’s why problems at home frequently show up in your work and vice versa, particularly if you’re not thinking about it.

        1. The RO-Cat*

          Agreed. In my experience, compartmentalizing is more of an ideal, than a fait accompli, for most people. In my training sessions, one of the questions I get asked with worrying frequency is “how can I leave work problems at work?” They leak and poison home life (and it is also true for the reverse).

          On topic, the way I see it is that OP has some learning to do, albeit they were doing things many people (I guess) do – just this time carelessly enough that someone else caught wind of it. The snooper was more in the wrong – busybodies like that make world an unnecessarily difficult place to navigate. But the worst offender was OP’s manager – that character has no excuse whatsoever in my eyes.

        2. Mike C.*

          [citation needed]

          Ever play poker before? Ever watch a news story about a murder where the long-time neighbor says something along the lines of “S/he was so nice and quiet, I could never imagine them killing someone!”

          You can show emotion in a safe space without it bleeding out all over the place.

          1. Ad Astra*

            Sure, some people can. Other people are lousy at poker. And many times, we find tons of warning signs in a murderer’s past. It’s not crazy to wonder if someone’s attitude about the way they lost their last job is affecting their search for a new one — particularly since the situation makes it difficult to explain her reason for leaving.

            1. Charby*

              Yeah, but that’s a pretty big leap for me. It’s easy for someone to let their emotions show in brief flashes when angry, frustrated, anxious, or flustered. The idea that everyone can conceal their true emotions 100% of the time isn’t really realistic or fair for most people (sociopaths and highly disciplined people outside). I don’t think anyone thinks that she is going on rants in interviews, but there are subtle cues and body language signs that come out when stressed. She is actually in a pretty frustrating situation right now having lost essentially all of her professional credibility with this one company and not even being able to use that as a reference. I’d be surprised if she was able to speak about this company without betraying even a small inkling of frustration to someone else.

              Not because I think she’s a bad person, but because I think that she’s human and the kind of skill that you’re describing isn’t one that comes naturally to most people.

              It’s certainly worth her time to examine her demeanor and practice ways to discuss her firing in an interview setting without inadvertently giving off too much negativity. Who knows, maybe that’s not the problem at all but I don’t see what the harm is in working through it with a trusted friend or mentor.

              1. Anonsy*

                Mike C., judging from past comments, is kind of a black-and-white “I can do this so everyone can” kind of a guy. Not bad-intentioned, but there isn’t a lot of room in his worldview for shades of gray or nuances of personality.

            2. Mike C.*

              But if we always wonder then that means every person who writes into AaM is someone leaking feelings all over the place.

              1. Zillah*

                Well, no – but I do think it’s worth mentioning as a possibility in highly charged situations, which don’t encompass every letter (or even the majority of letters) Alison posts, particularly when the person is job-searching.

              2. Charityb*

                I’m not assuming anything, I’m saying that it’s something for the candidate to examine with a mentor or a trusted friend. As I said earlier, it may be that she’s not betraying or “leaking” anything, but it’s equally possible that she’s tense or stressed out about this and that it’s showing in other job interviews. Her situation is pretty extreme since she’s essentially lost not just a job but potentially also the “credit” for her time here (since she can’t use this job as a reference, she may even be considering leaving it off her resume). If she’s a little flustered by it she would be only human, and it’s worth exploring that to make sure that she has good answers when questioned about this job and that her responses or tone don’t interfere with her job hunt.

          2. Zillah*

            [citation needed]

            Ever play poker before? Ever watch a news story about a murder where the long-time neighbor says something along the lines of “S/he was so nice and quiet, I could never imagine them killing someone!”

            You can show emotion in a safe space without it bleeding out all over the place.

            I might say the same thing to you – do you have citations backing up your assertion that most people are masters of compartmentalizing? Because that’s so far removed from my experience that I’d love to read about it.

              1. jamlady*

                I F-Ing Love Science just weighed in on psychopathy vs. sociopathy and how everyone likely knows at least one psychopath and there are a lot of them in high places because of their ability to completely compartmentalize. That’s not to say everyone who can (like me) is a psychopath, but it’s not really so simple to put it in the terms of “you either can or can’t” like the original commenter suggests. If it takes no effort or emotion at all, that’s probably not a good thing.

      3. VictoriaHR*

        If the OP is telling prospective employers why she was fired honestly, and is explaining it like she does in this letter, that would come across badly.

          1. Not Myself*

            People make mistakes, and people learn from them. Let’s not pretend that we’re all perfect angels who have never hurt someone or said something unkind. Because, J, your statement here is also hurtful and unfeeling. Let’s not alienate the OP – let’s help her grow.

            1. Borp*

              I wonder if the LW had written something unkind about someone’s race or gender, you’d still be admonishing people for expressing their disgust

              1. AT*

                Yes, she would, because she treats everyone equally, and that’s why we’re here reading this site. Those sorts of comments don’t contribute anything useful to the discussion. The “no pile-ons” rule applies across the board, and I don’t like your insinuation.

            2. Unwanted_Truth*

              All due respect, but J is allowed to express his opinion. His opinion is that the OP disgusts him, and rightly so to me. None of the people in this story bode well with me except the person on the bus who had B.O. and apparently kept their mouths closed. It’s not unkind at all, if the truths hurts…

              1. Not me*

                I think it’s understandable for Alison to have a limit on the conversations she’ll host. It’s her site.

                1. Unwanted_Truth*

                  Fair enough. I was under the impression that this is an open public forum where one can express their opinion. I don’t see how calling out ones actual impoliteness towards a larger person, or a person with hygiene issues, is actually impolite in and of itself. But since it’s your page and apparently don’t deal with opinions that you don’t like…

                  lost another reader.

                  good day

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Come on. I deal with opinions here that I don’t like all the time. This isn’t about opinions; it’s about how people talk to each other here.

                  And no, this isn’t an open forum where anything goes. You’re a guest here, and I do indeed enforce standards of civility (see the commenting rules that are linked above the comment box); people can strongly disagree while still being kind.

                  If that’s not the kind of discourse you want to engage in, I agree you should find a space more suited to what you’re looking for.

                3. Ghost_Hunter*

                  I’m going to take this opportunity to thank Alison for hosting such an open forum. I love that there are still places on the internet were we can have open, polite, civil discussions about items which we might disagree. Forums like these are a rarity now a days and take a lot of effort. Thanks Alison. Keep up the good work. This reader appreciates it.

                4. jamlady*

                  There’s having an opinion and then there’s stepping over the line. This is her page and she gets to decide where that line gets drawn. She’s always very fair. Get over it.

                5. billigirl*

                  I can’t agree more with you Ghost_Hunter and the reason why I respect this site so much. Allyson has made it clear in the link she provides with commenting guidelines. Her approach reminds me of my graduate classes where respectful disagreement is expected when opinions vary and is an approach conducive to a great learning and supportive environment.

        1. A (OP)*

          I haven’t been saying that no.

          My challenge was the former manager threatening anyone who gave me a reference with termination themselves so I had no references as I’d been there 3 years. But as of today I do have someone willing to go behind her back and help me out as she is 90% out the door there (with a new job to start in October pending background check).

        2. rdb0924*

          Agreed. While everyone has private peccadilloes, discussing them in an interview situation strikes me as exercising poor judgment, in and of itself. I abhor that OP seems okay with slagging fat people, but I also abhor invasion of privacy, and the fact is, her privacy was invaded.

      4. themmases*

        I feel like I see this comment way too often as well. There is a huge difference between writing an anonymous letter where the whole point is to tell your side of the story, even if it doesn’t reflect well on you, and being in a job interview where ideally you would never tell this story or anything approaching it. I usually don’t start to think that about OPs unless they come back here with more defensive, blinkered responses.

        FWIW I do agree with UKAnon that the OP sounds embarrassed by this incident, but, well, they should be. I have blown off steam on the CTA by texting my partner exactly what I thought of the charming specimen making everyone’s ride miserable, and I’d be mortified if anyone else saw most of them or if I had to tell someone what they said. The cognitive dissonance is strong here: the OP was definitely wronged, but the only way to describe how wronged they were is to share a story that makes them sound like a jerk too. I’m not surprised their letter sounds embarrassed. It doesn’t mean they couldn’t hold it together in a situation where they don’t even have to recount what happened.

    2. Krystal*

      I’m not sure I agree with your advice re: how to approach with future employers. I would assume that the person might have been a jerk (or a sexist, or a racist, or a homophobe) by that description, if it was egregious enough to merit firing. Granted, I’ve been the victim of some mean girl BS in the past, so I’d immediately assume that it was a personality issue. I also do think that it merited firing; keeping her around would show the customer that the business endorses such bad behavior. (For example, I stopped patronizing a local bar because the manager went on a transphobic rant. It was in the bar, but I would do the same if he said such hateful things elsewhere and I heard it.)

      I think OP needs to work on how she thinks about people and how she treats them.

      1. UKAnon*

        “keeping her around would show the customer that the business endorses such bad behavior”

        Texting her partner her thoughts? I hope that isn’t bad behaviour, or almost all of us are unemployable.

        If she was ranting in public about her thoughts on her fellow passengers – or anything transphobic – or anything else you found objectionable, by all means say something to the person, and if it’s truly egregious *and* they are in company clothing/at a company event or premises/representing the company in some other way then tell the company. But if you read someone’s text messages, you have to live with what you read and you don’t get to make a Big Thing out of it.*

        *Unless they’re confessing to mass murder. Then feel free to tell someone.

        1. fposte*

          This comment and others make me curious. I could never imagine publicly texting somebody a comment that I wouldn’t post on Facebook or someplace semi-public or wouldn’t say on the phone. Are people texting stuff in public places that they want to keep private? If so, I think that’s deeply unwise.

          1. some1*

            I would say I have to agree. The bus passenger was seriously nosy, but the LW also had no way of controlling that no one but her BF would read the text on his phone.

            1. Katie*

              +1 I wouldn’t text what LW did in public, especially with the passenger sitting right beside me. I read an article recently where a woman on a plane was sending racist texts about the passenger beside her and the passenger just happened to glance over and see a really offensive word on her screen. I guess if you have those kind of ugly opinions, you probably don’t care about hurting the person’s feelings, but I’d be mortified if the person LW was texting about had seen the texts.

          2. Eric*

            I’m confused. You treat all text messages composed in a public place as public? That’s a bit paranoid. It’s different than talking on the phone–much easier to be overheard than for someone to be reading your text messages over your shoulder.

            1. fposte*

              You bet. Any time I’m writing something on a glowing screen in a group of people, I assume it can be read. Because it can be. I don’t think it’s paranoid any more than it’s paranoid to say “don’t post it on the Internet and expect nobody to see it.” It’s not specific to electronics–I also wouldn’t read anything print in public that I wouldn’t be okay with people reading. Because you’re in public.

              I think maybe earbuds have a role here, in that they make people feel like they’re more in their own isolated world than they are. But you’re out in a group of people, and whether it’s on your t-shirt or your phone, you should be assuming it’s readable.

              1. Elysian*

                I disagree! For example, lots of people work on Amtrak. Lots of people even do confidential work on Amtrak. But if I’m typing something that’s technically confidential on my computer with my little privacy screen, or if I’m writing hand written notes on some paper documents, I don’t assume everyone on the train will read it, even if they technically could creep up behind me and do so. We have to accept the polite indifference of our neighbors on the train, otherwise no one would be able to do any work at all.

                There are obviously some things that are WAY to confidential to do on the train, especially phone calls. But to a certain extent you have to trust that people will politely ignore things they’re obviously not supposed to see. If I see my coworker’s paycheck on her desk, I don’t just open it because its public. I make an effort not to look. That’s reasonable to expect, to a certain degree.

                1. Aunt Vixen*

                  Huh. Every job I’ve ever had, if I’m typing something that’s technically confidential on my computer with my privacy screen on the train, or if I’m writing handwritten notes on some confidential paper documents on the train, my ass could be fired for dealing with confidential matters in an inherently unconfidential space whether we knew anyone read over my shoulder or not.

                  In the office there’s a presumption of trust. In public? Not so much.

                2. ThursdaysGeek*

                  Adding to Aunt Vixon’s comment, my company will discipline us for using a cell phone for any confidential work too. Because cell phones are not secure: texts and voice can be picked up electronically. It’s not likely to happen, but it can.

                3. Elysian*

                  I think there’s varying degrees of confidential. In my line of work pretty much every single thing I do is confidential to some degree, but there’s a big different between “This is generally confidential, don’t take out a billboard or email it to our industry opponent” and there’s “highly classified, don’t even tell your spouse at the dinner table.” I wouldn’t do anything that falls under the second umbrella on the train, but if I couldn’t do the first I would never be able to do work on the train at all. I would guess that all the lawyers I see traveling between DC and NYC on Amtrak have some similar variance as well, and we all just politely ignore each others’ work.

                4. Aunt Vixen*

                  @Elysian – well, right. I was making the same distinction as you between confidential and classified. If I’m handling classified materials outside of a secured area, I’m not just fired, I may actually be arrested. (Unless I can FedEx myself to Hong Kong in a big damn hurry.) But the big scare-the-newbies story that was always told at the law firm I worked in a hundred years ago was to do with two lawyers getting work done on a plane. They had documents out and laptops open and were conversing between themselves. Turns out in a seat nearby was someone they had no reason to know worked for opposing counsel. This was way before cameras in cell phones, but the opponent’s employee just listened quietly and absorbed the whole trial strategy and wouldn’t you know, what was supposed to have been a great triumph turned out to be a little less triumphant.

                  You don’t make an effort to snoop or spy on someone else’s work product on the train or the plain or wherever, but if you happen to become aware of someone else’s work product in ways that could benefit your own work product, I don’t believe professional courtesy requires you to pretend it never happened. I for one simply never discuss work or handle work product in public if it’s not something I would be okay with my biggest boss knowing I was overheard by That Guy On The Train.

                5. Elysian*

                  But I think there’s a difference between talking and reading. Talking is easy to overhear, but you generally have to make some kind of effort to read what someone else is reading. I overheard someone on the phone giving her credit card number out on the train once – I couldn’t help but overhear and she was two seats away. But I politely keep my eyes on my own paper when the guy in the seat next to me opens his laptop. Those are two different things: if the OP was on the phone with her boyfriend, that would be another thing entirely. But sending a text/reading something, even if its in public, should still have some modicum of privacy, even if its just polite courtesy.

                6. Anna*

                  Yeah, I’m with you. If someone is texting on their phone, I’m going to assume that conversation has nothing to do with me. Not to mention, who on earth cares that much about what someone is texting? Unless they’re planning on hurting someone else or themselves, MYOB. I say a lot of things via text that I wouldn’t say on Facebook because really the only people I’m texting are people I trust who wouldn’t take my texts and send them to anyone else. Because if they did, it wouldn’t be unlike them taking what I said in a private conversation and blasting it out in public.

                7. Stone Satellite*

                  Agree. There’s a social covenant on public transportation that says everyone should mind their own business and pretend they can’t see what anyone else is doing. This is how polite society manages to function, and when you break the rules, you just have to suck it up and keep whatever you read to yourself.

              2. Mabel*

                I think you’re talking about having the message seen by people who are nearby and could “oversee” (like “overhear”) it. But I also assume that anything I write on an electronic device could potentially be seen by other people. My employer could see it if I’m using my work mobile phone or computer, and I’m pretty sure Verizon can see anything I type on my phone. So – do I type personal notes to myself – yes, and I figure that if someone wants to make that public, there’s not a lot I can do about it, and who would really want to read it anyway. But anything I type to someone else can be forwarded (accidentally or not), posted, etc., so I assume it wouldn’t be private. I may be paranoid, but I always keep this in mind when I’m texting, emailing, etc. Some things are just better said in person and not put in writing.

              3. Court*

                Assuming it’s readable kind of seems like a different matter here. Isn’t the real issue that someone was deliberately spying on her personal property? If I’m at home with my blinds open, I’m not giving my neighbors a license to watch what I’m doing and take pictures of me. Just because people CAN see something doesn’t mean it’s their right to.

                That said, I don’t think you’re being paranoid, because you are right–you can’t control if people are being nosy and reading your stuff when it shouldn’t be read. However, OP shouldn’t have had to worry about that. I think people are ganging up on OP for the content of her message, which was way out of line, but if it had been a different sort of message and someone had photographed her, wouldn’t you take issue with it?

            2. Traveler*

              I’ve accidentally seen quite a few text messages from coworkers, strangers, etc. Some phone screens are pretty large, and people are often careless about how they hold it. I look away, but still. Its happened that I’ve seen someone elses enough that I’m with fposte on this. Gossip rags, paparazzi and reality tv exist for a reason, people love snooping into people’s private lives.

              1. fposte*

                I do find it amusing that on this post talking about snooping I’m getting an ad involving a big dog nose coming right at my face :-).

            3. Worn Heels*

              It goes in cycles. The “Silent Generation” that came before the Boomers was largely silent because they operated in a work atmosphere where expressing any opinions was to risk your career. Nobody was safe — the big example was Charlie Chaplin being banned from the U.S. over allegations of Communism, despite being one of America’s most popular entertainers.

              This generation is being raised up like the Silents — you never know who Google will release your emails to, and Facebook never deletes a “deleted” post. Then suddenly you’re being squeezed by NSA terrorist-hunting organizations from above, and university and internet organizations practicing “call-out culture” from below, all while big companies try to find new ways to spy the money out of you and suddenly remaining silent seems like the best idea.

          3. LBK*

            It’s probably a good idea, sure, but to me your expected circle of privacy should be a) the people you intentionally shared with, b) one degree of relationships outside circle A, and c) the people who, within reasonable means, can’t be prevented from seeing/hearing it. It may be wise to just never write or say anything in public that you wouldn’t want others to know, but I don’t know it’s unreasonable to feel that a text message is a private communication even if written in public, mainly because it’s relatively easy for others to avoid seeing it. I wouldn’t feel the same way about, say, a public phone conversation, because it’s physiologically impossible to stop yourself from eavesdropping unless you have headphones.

            1. fposte*

              I can certainly understand where the feeling comes from. I just think it’s misplaced :-).

              I mean, I get that there are things in society we see and agree to pretend we don’t–bad sneezes, skirts flying up, etc. I’m actually in favor of that, and I don’t think people should read one another’s phones.

              But I think this post right here is an illustration of why it’s folly to assume that pretense is going to hold when you say something in public, no matter who it’s directed to, that other people can hear or read and that seriously pisses them off. It’s kind of interesting to think about what you’d need to see on a phone before you’d want to report it somewhere. Racist texts, like if the Regal Cinema woman was texting instead of tweeting? Racist texts about a named co-worker or company? Rape threats about a co-worker? I think it’s quite likely that many of us who think the picture taker was way out of line here have our own examples of where we’d be on the other side of the line and think the person was a moron for visibly texting something so inflammatory/illegal/etc. in a public space.

              1. UKAnon*

                I think the legal line is the line for me. If I honestly think a private conversation I have found/snooped on is about a crime which somebody is seriously considering/committing/ed then I would say something (I hope) If it’s legal, however obnoxious, not my business.

                1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

                  Where is the legal line, though? (Genuinely curious.) If the person next to me on an airplane is writing in a journal about his plans to plant a bomb in a public place, does he have a reasonable expectation of privacy for that journal? Obviously if he were writing at home, he would, but if I’m right next to him? I try not to be a nosy person, but I have to admit that if the person next to me in a small space starts writing or reading, I do unintentionally glance at the text before reminding myself “not yours!” and deliberately stop paying attention to it. I then act out the polite fiction that I don’t know if they’re reading a spy novel or doing calculus homework or whatever – but I do actually know it.

                2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

                  To be clear, I wouldn’t act on anything that didn’t seem like it presented a genuine and serious danger to others or to someone’s property – if the guy next to me were writing a journal about how he would never hire minorities to work for him, I would silently judge him, but wouldn’t do anything else. If he were writing death threats, I’d be a lot less sure what to do. Maybe he’s a novelist? Maybe he’s an actual serial killer? I hope I’m never in this situation…

              2. LBK*

                I do think the “who it’s directed to” piece does matter to an extent, though – I feel much more comfortable about action being taken on a consciously public tweet than I do about a text message intended for one person. Although I suppose you could argue that we need to realign “consciously public” to combine where we’re sending the message, not just where we’re sending it *to*. The internet privacy discussion is so wrapped up in the latter that we definitely aren’t thinking about the former as much.

                Keep in mind too that it’s only been within the last few decades that it was really even a possibility to be sending small-audience messages in a public place (unless you were writing a snail mail letter on the bus, I suppose) so it’s not surprising to me that the societal expectations around that privacy haven’t caught up yet.

                1. fposte*

                  I definitely agree that a public tweet is different than a privately sent message; I’m just not sure it’s always different enough. Maybe there’s a correlation to your circles of audience privacy in circles of message sensitivity–people are agreeing that it’d be too public to post SSNs, for instance. But I think this is tapping into some of the same conversations as sexting–that you don’t have the control over stuff that you feel you do on a phone, whether it’s what the recipient does with the information or who sees you sending it.

                  I hope this isn’t too much of a derail from the post, because I think this is really interesting and I’m intrigued to see what people are saying here.

                2. Jay*

                  As the collective “we”, we really need to start trying to define who is and isn’t a public figure. If you’re a government official posting to social media under your own name about how an overweight person on the bus grosses you out, expect problems. You’re a public figure and thus all your public actions should likely be used to judge you.

                  If you’re a retail employee, off the clock, not wearing a uniform, using a medium that has no connection to your employer… tweet or text, shouldn’t matter. As company leaders, you can’t expect everyone to be a brand champion (or whatever the lame marketing term-du-jour is) around the clock and you shouldn’t be able to hold them accountable for their personal-time behavior when it has no public reflection on your company.

              3. Abby*

                Totally agree– both with the sentiment that communications made in public places are technically fair game, and that there’s a fine/extremely blurry line between what’s egregious and merely irksome. When out in public, assume that you’re “on.”

                Personally, I do understand where the picture-taker was coming from: she recognized the OP as a public-facing employee and was upset that a polite attitude at work belied a rather nasty viewpoint regarding overweight people. She did engage in some digital age eavesdropping, but I don’t find it very different from a parent overhearing a schoolteacher make the same comments to partner while at the grocery store. Both situations would make me rather uncomfortable about the types of people the business (or school) employs. That said, the employer was way too heavy-handed with the firing. This situation might have been worthy of a stern talking to, but not a firing.

                1. Jay*

                  I think you need to think about how much the actions of this person really reflects on the company.

                  On a regular basis, I enter retail stores where employees are socializing (sometimes to each other, sometimes with customers) about their personal lives. Assuming it doesn’t cross into R-rated material (or even PG-13), I consider it normal human behavior. People have lives and opinions outside of work. Sometimes those don’t 100% align with corporate values. It happens. You need to realize those are the thoughts/behaviors of employees, not the company.

                  And in this case, the employee wasn’t even on the clock. If you witness something like this and it offends you, tell the offender how you feel. Acting like their behavior represents their employer somehow and the person must be punished for it is extreme and out of touch with how humans have behaved for all of civilized history.

          4. Laurel Gray*

            Texting in “public” as in if I whip out my phone on the street and begin to text? Yeah, as far as I’m concerned it is private. I don’t like people looking over my shoulder so I am usually pretty conscious as I am texting but I’ve certainly sent and received messages that I wouldn’t want made public while I was in public. Also, I don’t text just anyone, I am a texter by rapport, if that means anything. If we are getting to a point where we can no longer do this, what is the point of the text message feature?

            1. fposte*

              Text wasn’t created just so you could say things in public that you couldn’t say on the phone, though, so I’m not sure where you’re going with your last line.

              This is really startling me–you guys would text your SSN while sitting on a bus?

              1. LBK*

                Huh. I guess I wouldn’t, although I probably wouldn’t text my SSN at all (which is more for vague reasons that relate to not knowing enough about the encryption used on texts to know if that would be secure).

                I think reading someone’s public text sits somewhere between public and private; it’s obviously less intrusive than, like, hacking into that person’s accounts to steal their info, but I’d say it’s certainly more intrusive than reading something written on their shirt or that is otherwise clearly intended to be accessible to the public.

              2. Laurel Gray*

                I wouldn’t text SSN, card, passwords etc…but have I or would I text a “Ugh, I just bumped into Penelope’s husband and he hit on me. Always a pig” to a girlfriend? Yes, admittedly.

              3. J-nonymous*

                That’s not really a valid comparison, though. Not being willing to transmit *sensitive* information does not get rid of the expectation of privacy regarding your own cell device and SMS text messages to a single party.

                1. fposte*

                  But where are you drawing that expectation of privacy from? I think it’s really just a desire that’s been converted baselessly into an expectation.

                2. Koko*

                  Honestly, I’ve just never thought about it before because it’s so deeply invasive. It’s like an up-skirt shot. Yeah, it’s technically possible and it does indeed happen, but at the same time, I don’t avoid wearing skirts in public, and when I wear a skirt I’m not vigilantly watching out for creepshots, I just assume no one is taking up-skirt photos of my crotch because it’s so invasive and requires so much effort to do without detection. It’s not even that I consider, “Hm, will anyone take a photo up my skirt today?” It just doesn’t even pop into my head 99.9% of the time as anything to be realistically concerned about.

                  I feel the same way about someone snooping and photographing my texts over my shoulder. It’s deeply invasive and requires boldness or carefulness to do so in public without someone else noticing what you’re doing. It seems so unlikely that 99.9% of the time I’m not even thinking of whether it’s technically possible, even though it does happen.

                3. J-nonymous*

                  Yes @Koko, that’s almost precisely what I was going to say. The person who recorded the text messaging had to take (presumably) invasive steps to view, read and photograph those messages.

                4. Elysian*

                  Upskirt photos are a good (but creepy) comparison. Technically, yeah, I’m out in public and if you stand at the right angle you can see my undies, but its just so invasive and creepy. I have some expectation of privacy even when wearing a skirt. If I’m not waving my phone around, if I’m actually trying to text in a personal manner, I should have some expectation of privacy in a phone that is facing my body and not anyone else’s.

                5. Book Person*

                  Koko, I think that is a great comparison, especially as some of the defences of the Creepshots forum when it was closed down were along the lines of “what do you expect when you wear a skirt in public?” It would take a fair amount of effort to peer over someone’s shoulder to read and take a picture of the screen. I don’t think a reasonable expectation of privacy (or the illusion of it) is too much to ask on transit.

                  (Though I’ve texted things that I wouldn’t want my employer to see screenshots of–nothing bigoted or illegal, just… none of their business–I do think it’s rude to text about someone who is /sitting right next to you/. There was a chance that she would see the message, honestly, and that’s pretty unkind).

                6. Anna*

                  It’s not baseless at all. I’m less concerned about Hacker X reading my opinion about the stinky person in front of me than I am about Hacker X getting my SSN. I think you’re conflating personal opinions with things that could actually cause harm. In this case harm was caused, but it wasn’t because the data the person put in the phone was intercepted. It was literally because someone overstepped their boundaries and took actual photos of a private conversation.

              4. Traveler*

                Maybe I am paranoid – but in this era, I would not put anything iffy into writing at all. What if I accidentally text it to the wrong person? What if someone comes up behind me and I don’t hear them and they accidentally read it? What if my phone gets stolen and the person who stole it does something malicious with the information?

                You should be able to expect privacy, but so little is private anymore…

                1. Clever Name*

                  I agree. I have plenty of snarky thoughts, but I try to abstain from emailing or texting them. I just wait to vent them to my husband or friends when we are together in person. ;)

                2. JGray*

                  I agree & you are not paranoid. Nowadays anything you text, email, or say on social media can be used against you in some way whether it’s a legal proceeding or getting you fired from a job as is the case here. I think that it is better to be safe than sorry especially when you are in public places.

                3. Katie*

                  Haha, I have this paranoia a lot when I do send a snarky message (usually about obnoxious coworkers). I check my phone two or three times afterward just to make sure I didn’t accidentally send it to the person I complained about.

          5. Zillah*

            I mean, I don’t text super sensitive information in public (or at all, depending on the subject), but there are certainly texts I send in public places that I wouldn’t post on Facebook (for example).

          6. Cat*

            I don’t write mean things about the people next to me, but I also don’t go by the Facebook rule and would, for instance, write a message to a friend about how I had a lousy day that I wouldn’t post for a gazillion people on Facebook. I think it’s wise to avoid anything that would be devastating if made public but not necessary to act as if it’s likely that whatever you’re writing will be made public, because it probably won’t.

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, I’m trying to find the line (which may be pointless hairsplitting, but what the heck). I would text Laurel’s example too, but then I’d say that, either to a seatmate or to somebody on the phone. (And to be clear, I’m not at all saying this is totally the OP’s fault.)

              But I think there’s something weird going on with phones and earbuds and tech etiquette vs. pragmatism. Do people have this same expectation about laptop screens in a coffee shop? My suspicion is they don’t–that it’s more “It’s really annoying to have a stranger read over your shoulder,” and that this is about how personal our phones have become to us.

              1. Koko*

                I definitely feel more aware of my laptop screen in public because it’s so much larger and it’s angled directly out to everyone behind me – it’s not all that hard for someone to casually see what’s on it without looking like they’re being nosey. A phone screen is tiny and angled upward at my face with my body shielding it from most angles. It would take a lot of effort for someone to snoop on my phone screen and it would be pretty obvious to everyone around them that they’re being nosey, which I guess I see as a strong deterrent keeping people from doing it.

                1. Tau*

                  I’m a bit puzzled by all this because honestly, beyond not texting super-sensitive information in public I’ve never even *thought* about the fact that someone could read my phone screen as I’m texting, because – well – it’s tiny! I’m angling it towards my body! You’d have to do some serious contortions to even look at it! Nor have I ever seen what a stranger is texting.

                  Laptop screen is different because it’s bigger, but honestly – I still expect people to ignore it. I write fanfiction in my spare time and would be pretty embarrassed to have a stranger read that, and I do a lot of that in coffee shops. I try to seat myself with my back to the wall and nobody next to me, but when it comes down to it I expect other people to make an effort to ignore what’s on my screen and do the same to others, because privacy.

                2. Katie*

                  It depends on your phone screen though. The iPhone 6+ is as big as a tablet. It’s not totally out of the realm of possibility that a person sitting beside or behind you on a bus while you type on the 6+ or even the 6 could read what you were typing.

          7. Ted Mosby*

            Really? Ok tone is hard on the interwebs, so FYI I do NOT mean to criticize you but personally, I do this all the time and don’t feel any need to stop. There’s a lot I wouldn’t want people I KNOW to know, like that my sister is in rehab or that I really need to poop, but if a stranger reads that over my shoulder? Ok, good for you, you’re really nosy, see you never again in my life!

            One thing I WONT do is text a personal jab about the person sitting next to me. I can be a jerk. I’ll sometimes tell my boyfriend about someones BO or way too tight pants or wtv, but I assume people near me can/will read those texts. (If they’re just being obnoxious Idc).

            1. fposte*

              I don’t feel remotely criticized, FYI–I think this is fascinating that we’re coming with different expectations here.

            2. jhhj*

              Just to be clear, she texted about someone who had been sitting next to her (at work), but who was not currently sitting next to her (while she was texting on the bus).

              I would text about strangers sitting next to me, but not about people I know — or at least, if I were sitting next to my sister I would not text anything that would bother me if she read it, and I wouldn’t text things hoping she read them as a passive-aggressive way of getting to her.

              1. Natalie*

                I think you misread – the OP was texting about her fellow bus-rider, who was sitting next to her at the time.

              2. fposte*

                I’m pretty sure it was somebody sitting next to her on the bus, though; she said it happened on the bus and she was texting in the present tense, and it was somebody else on the bus who was able to take the picture.

                I think the confusing part is that it was somebody who knew her from work who *saw* the text and took the picture.

              3. jhhj*

                Wait, I think I misread it. I thought she was complaining about her coworker. So actually she was complaining about a stranger on the bus, and someone else saw her text about this?

                1. fposte*

                  Right. OP is sitting next to Person B on the bus and texting to her boyfriend that person B smells bad and is overweight. Person C, who knows where OP works, is also riding the bus, sees the text, and takes a picture of it, then shares it with OP’s employer.

                  Person B may not even know that any of this happened. (Or maybe she’s friends with Person C–who knows?)

                2. VictoriaHR*

                  Yes, exactly. Both the person that she was complaining about, and the person who took pictures of her text, were on the bus.

            3. Anon for this too*

              Ooh, this reminds me of my old boss, who used to on purpose make nasty comments about people who she knew were close enough to hear. She wanted them to overhear, it was an act of aggression, to see if they would call her on it. I can’t help wondering if someone who is texting about someone sitting next to them wouldn’t be doing something similar. You have to know that if you’re sitting that close, you can’t help but read other people’s texts. Phone screens are not really all that small, anymore.

                1. Anon for this too*

                  She would get in their face. She really seemed to want a physical altercation. But mostly no one called her on it.

          8. Ad Astra*

            I text plenty of stuff in public that I’d prefer to keep private, but:

            1) I save the really salacious stuff for when I have some privacy.
            2) I don’t use public transportation and don’t typically find myself getting that close to strangers.
            3) It’s bad form to text something rude about the person sitting next to you. It’s very easy for that person to accidentally read your screen and see the nasty comment that absolutely couldn’t wait until the end of the bus ride (or whatever). It’s like whispering about someone sitting next to you and then saying “It was a private conversation!” when they accidentally overhear you and take offense.

            1. Pam Poovey*

              Yes, this. It is so easy to accidentally see what someone next to you is texting. Unfortunately, it was also the way we found out how our new DIL really feels about my husband. As in, he was out to lunch with our son (home for a short time from the military) and son kept getting texts from DIL who was at work. DH was not trying to look, but my son owns the biggest phone possible and could clearly see “too bad you have to spend the day with your dad”. He sincerely wishes he never saw it. You do not have to be trying to read over someone’s shoulder to catch something like that. He pretended he didn’t see it, but felt bad the rest of the day. This is also a good lesson for the texters out there…you don’t know who is sitting next to the person that is receiving your not-so-nice texts. And you can’t control who they might ultimately show your text too. You can only control what you do (don’t text things like that if it might cause you trouble down the line). You must consider that as well when you consider your privacy when it comes to texting.

              1. Wish I Hadn't Seen That*

                This hits wayyyy to close to home, I once saw “risque” texts between my parents just by looking down while the phone was next to me. It still freaks me out to this day, and I also wish I hadn’t seen it.

              2. Ad Astra*

                Oof, I bet that hurt. FWIW, if all other signs indicate the DIL feels fine about your husband, I would try not to read too much into that comment. It’s very possible she just meant “Too bad you can’t hang out with me,” rather than “Spending time with your dad must really suck because he’s a monster.” It sucks, though, because you can’t unsee stuff like that.

                The weirdest part of the OP’s case is that a third party oversaw it and took such offense that she photographed it and brought it into the manager. It would be way less strange for the overweight woman to see the text and say something about it.

                1. Zillah*

                  FWIW, if all other signs indicate the DIL feels fine about your husband, I would try not to read too much into that comment. It’s very possible she just meant “Too bad you can’t hang out with me,” rather than “Spending time with your dad must really suck because he’s a monster.”

                  Yeah, that’s actually where my mind went, too – potentially with something sexual before the “too bad you have to spend the day with your dad.”

                2. Pam Poovey*

                  True. I told him he should probably try to think of it that way – maybe she was trying to be “risque” via text lol and not a personal dig. We just don’t know the context – but it will unfortunately take a while before he can get it out of the back of his mind. I completely agree that it was unnecessary for the third party to report the text in OP’s case. I’m just sharing my story to spread the awareness that texting can’t always be assumed as private as some readers above had mentioned an expectation of privacy when texting.

              3. Anna*

                There’s no reason not to be careful, but it’s important to remember the customer took photos of the texts and sent them to the OP’s boss. That is a level of WTF I would never have fathomed. Your husband’s feelings were hurt, for good reason, but if your husband had taken snapshots of the text and then confronted your DIL and son, it wouldn’t all be on them.

              4. Nervous Accountant*

                Yikes!! Not a text, but I saw a glimpse of an email from my boss to my manager when I was at his desk asking him a question… that was pretty harsh. I’ swear I’ve read something smilar happening on here..

            2. Retail Lifer*

              I had some guy on the bus keep lookingover my shoulder at my phone while I was texting my boyfriend. The next text to the BF was “This guy next to me keeps reading my texts.” Obviously that was on purpose and meant for him to see, though. And it worked! He kept his eyes elsewhere after that.

          9. Honeybee*

            I would say that I agree with that – I don’t text anything in public that I wouldn’t want anyone to oversee, because things happen and some people are nosy. With that said, I wouldn’t want anyone fired over a private text that they sent – unless that private text had something directly to do with the company/job itself (“Hey Jenna, I’m embezzling money from my job!”)

            1. fposte*

              I think this is where I am. Elizabeth West has a good summation downthread of how the company should have handled it, but I also think there’s defensive texting the way there’s defensive driving, and it’s in our own interest to practice it.

          10. Elsajeni*

            See, I definitely send texts from public places that I wouldn’t say out loud without worrying that someone might read over my shoulder, but what strikes me as really unwise in this situation is: I would DEFINITELY never text a mean remark ABOUT someone who was sitting close enough to read over my shoulder. I agree that the photographer was out of line in this situation… but I don’t know that I’d feel the same if it had been the seatmate being insulted who’d snapped the picture and sent it in.

            1. Anna*

              Right. It’s similar to me as opening a letter. Sure you *could* open it, but everyone on the planet knows you shouldn’t. Or snooping through someone’s opened mail. Or reading a private letter over someone’s shoulder. You Just Do Not.

          11. A (OP)*

            I’ll be honest and say I don’t treat what I do on my phone in public to be public fodder.

            I think of I announce it as a status on Facebook, that’s one thing, it’s like mauling a public declaration or the the very least saying something very loudly and not caring who hears, but a private text she would have had to make an effort to read? That’s craning your neck to listen to two people whispering because they clearly want privacy and then getting mad because you don’t like why’s they said.

            But YMMV.

          12. afiendishthingy*

            Interesting question. I have been known to read, um, risque stuff on my phone on airplanes, in coffee shops, etc. I’ve also texted my friend complaints about coworkers. I have occasionally worked on confidential stuff in coffee shops. I do, however, do my best to cover up my screens and papers, the text isn’t huge, etc.

            My work involves kids with developmental disabilities. If I were on a bus, and sent a text that said “Some r*****ed kid on this bus won’t stop yelling, his mom needs to shut him the f*** up”, and someone behind me recognized me from work and took a picture of my phone and sent it to my employer, I would expect my boss would have some pretty stern words for me. And if one of my employees did it I would definitely address it. I don’t think formal disciplinary action would be warranted, but it would show some pretty poor judgment to send that text in public. (Probably unnecessary note: I would never use the r word, in public or not.)

            1. Katie*

              Oh, man. I was all kinds of embarrassed while reading 50 Shades of Grey on my phone at an airport and then on the plane. I just knew someone seated near me would glance over and see a dirty word.

        2. ID10T Detector*

          Only mass murder? Single murder doesn’t make the cut? ;-) LOL.

          I think keeping the customer around shows the world what they think of people who read over people’s shoulders (pet peeve of mine to begin with), and then TAKE PICTURES of the private communications and send them to that person’s employer, when the person isn’t identifiable as an employee of that company at the time the snooper was snooping.

        3. Artemesia*

          This. This isn’t something overheard. This is something it required major efforts to snoop on — it is akin to someone reading her diary and seeking to have her fired.

          1. Natalie*

            I feel like I’m harping on this, but it really doesn’t take major effort to accidentally read a smart phone screen, especially if you are immediately behind and above someone as is often the case on a bus. They didn’t hack into her phone.

            1. TL -*

              I read super fast and without realizing it, but you can definitely train yourself to stop auto-reading things. Or, at least I have, to the point where I do have to focus to get through a longer text message/conversation – and texts are easier to jerk out of than, say, emails, because they’re so broken up and colorful, generally, that you do have to actively focus to get through it.

              I am much better about not reading texts but I can still get through a sentence or two in an open email before realizing it.

              And, at least in my experience with my friends, this is a rarer type of skill anyways.

              1. Natalie*

                Interesting. It hasn’t really been an issue for me, but who knows what the future will bring. Curious how to trained yourself to stop.

                That said, I was responding to the idea that it took “major effort to snoop”. Probably not. (The rest of it is out of line, though.)

              2. TootsNYC*

                Or even if you read it–you don’t need to act on it.

                And how long would it take for her to take a picture of the OP’s phone, before the text message disappeared up the screen, or the OP moved her phone.

            2. PlainJane*

              No, but it does take major effort to a) take a picture of it, and b) send that picture to the person’s employer.

              1. Natalie*

                Yes, but the comment was comparing reading the text to finding and reading someone’s diary. They’re on very different levels of snooping.

            3. Anna*

              It does take effort to snap a photo without being caught, though. And they did take a photo of her texts. So it still doesn’t work.

            4. Observer*

              They didn’t “accidentally” take the picture. Also, if the OP is correct, the snooper was far enough away that she (or he) had to have deliberately been reading.

      2. Winter is Coming*

        You’ve never had a negative thought about someone that you PRIVATELY voiced to someone else? The OP was not in any position to be judged on her opinion in this case. We may not agree with her opinion or the way she expressed it, but why should we have to? It was a private conversation. Personally, I don’t think she should have been fired. But, OP, Victoria HR has an excellent point. Watch how you are describing this to potential employers, you may end up doing more harm than good in your job search if describe what happened as you did here, despite the fact that you are being truthful.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        I don’t agree about the firing. It’s ONE customer. Sure they can tell all their friends, but the store management could have come up with a better solution. How about “thank you for bringing this to our attention, this employee has been sent to sensitivity training…”

        And I’m super curious what exactly was said during the firing and what they had her sign. It was a private text on her private phone away from this store, maybe a free consult with an employment lawyer is in order depending

        1. Observer*

          It’s hard to believe that she has any cause to sue. Employment is at will in 49 states, so an employee can be fired for any reason, or no reason at all, as long as it’s not retaliation for trying to stop illegal behavior or because the person is in a protected class. There are also some exception like not being able to fire someone for taking FMLA leave or exercising certain rights, as spelled out in the relevant statutes. But, I can’t think of anything that would be relevant here.

          On the other hand, I would think she would be eligible for unemployment. I don’t think this firing really counts as “for cause”.

        2. Katie*

          I agree with you there. Plus, fat shaming is a pretty common thing in the US. I imagine most people would express sympathy toward the LW about how horrible her experience on the bus was before they’d stop shopping at a store they like over her text.

      4. LawBee*

        I’m curious. How is this different than the other letters where the stance is that yes, your employer can discipline you for actions you take outside of the workplace? Is it because it was a text message?

        1. neverjaunty*

          Your employer also CAN, in most of the US, fire you because your manager woke up with a hangover and felt like taking it out on the next person who walked into her office and that happened to be you. Still makes firing you a jerk move.

      5. Jay*

        I said this in another comment, but that’s an extreme view. The OP’s views while off the clock, no matter how inconsiderate they are, should NOT be connected to their employer.


        There’s a cop bar down the street from me. Cops go there to blow off steam, pick up girls/guys, get hammered, curse, yell, have fun, share sorrows. There are a lot worse things happening there every day than what the OP texted. And as long as it stays legal and within the boundaries of whatever their employer allows (not getting drunk while on call, etc), who cares? Does the fact that a cop goes out after work on a Friday and gets drunk and all that mean they aren’t capable of the whole serve & protect bit? If so, we wouldn’t have much of a police force left in this country…

        Not to insult the OP, but it sounds like she is a heck of a lot less important to society than a cop. Her opinions while outside of work shouldn’t matter to anyone ultimately. Does she need to adjust her attitude toward others (at least what she openly shares) if she wants to be successful as a member of the humans? Probably. But her childish texts don’t represent the thoughts of her employer one bit. And they certainly shouldn’t have any bearing on her ability to do her job.

        1. CA Admin*

          Well, if a cop went out at got drunk and started throwing around racial slurs? Or homophobic slurs? Or transphobic slurs? Or misogynistic slurs? Yeah, I’d be concerned about his ability to do his job.

          1. Anna*

            Absolutely. But we the people also pay their wages and they hold a public office, so it’s not an exact comparison.

      6. Observer*

        I agree that the OP needs to reframe her thinking. But to say that keeping her on “endorses” the behavior is a very dangerous idea. If we accepted that, then we would have to accept the moral (not just legal) right, and possibly even obligation, for every employer to fire people for anything any employee does at any time that the employer disagrees with. That’s not a world I think most of us want to live in.

      7. Mander*

        “keeping her around would show the customer that the business endorses such bad behavior”

        Conversely, firing her over a customer’s inappropriate snooping endorses bad customer behavior. The OP was not in uniform, and was not discussing company business. Sure, she could have been more careful about airing her private thoughts in a place where there was some possibility that a busybody would peek over her shoulder and read her texts, but in my view it is completely unreasonable to police my own private communications to this extent. The OP expressed some regrettable opinions, which I find personally offensive, but I think her employer was 100% wrong to kowtow to a nosy customer in this way.

      1. UKAnon*

        I’m definitely not a psychologist, armchair or otherwise, but I do read heaps of literature, and something it’s made me notice is that often people become defensive when they feel they are in the wrong and are embarrassed about it. Obviously hard to tell from an email and I didn’t mean it to be a big point, but the OP’s defensiveness led me there.

    3. AW*

      I really hope doesn’t turn into a pile-on

      So far it looks like more people want to pile-on the fat passenger than the OP.

      1. CMT*

        This is as far in the comments as I’ve read so far and I think I’ll keep it that way. Thanks for the heads up.

          1. Emily*

            Do you consider comments against the OP losing her job over this transgression to also be comments against the neighboring passenger? Maybe that’s not your reasoning, but it’s the only way I can see a pile-on against her, and I have to squint.

  2. NickelandDime*

    I’m floored.

    A complete stranger took pictures of someone’s phone, sent the pictures to their job and got them fired?

    I hope the OP reflects on her role in this too – because what you put out there in the universe you get back – but I can’t get past the manager firing the OP over this.

    1. UKAnon*

      I’m guessing it’s easier to find a new part-time employee than do the decent thing and tell the customer to stop stirring then have to explain to corporate when they raise a complaint.

      1. NickelandDime*

        I think you’re right. And maybe the OP’s attitude, as I pointed out below, might have spilled into other areas at work and they were just looking for something to get rid of her.

      2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        I have a dear friend whose decision to leave retail was driven by a similar situation.

        After the second employee she had to fire, because her boss “didn’t want an a$$ chewing by corporate,” over a situation where the customer was wrong, but loud, she quit.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            I do think it’s industry specific, though I have friends who work in non-profit that could tell similar stories just substituting “executive director” for “manager” and “board member” for customer.”

        1. Rebecca*

          I cannot tell you how many times as a retail manager I had a customer complain about an associate about something so trivial and stupid. I had one lady tell me, “I’m the customer, it doesn’t matter if I spit on the floor, I’m always right.” (She was not literally spitting on the floor, to be clear.) No, sometimes the customer isn’t right. Sometimes they’re a big f**king jerk.

          1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

            Ugh…I hate that attitude.

            I don’t know people get “store employee” confused with “indentured servant,” and “customer” with “royal highness.”

            1. Wrong*

              Because the US is all about “business,” with no concept that working people have any rights. John Steinbeck said we all regard ourselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” We think it’s okay to demonize poor people, people who never went to college, people who do blue-collar jobs. “You’ll be working at McDonald’s” is considered an acceptable insult. Is it any surprise that so many people think it’s okay to shit on service workers?

          2. Three Thousand*

            I wonder if she thinks “the customer is always right” means she gets to shoplift, destroy property, or physically assault people in the store as well? It’s hilarious and sad how some people have so badly abused an admittedly poorly-worded customer service mantra by taking it this literally.

          1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

            And that person’s friends and family.

            Even though the big box store my friend worked at is less than a mile from my house, I still go to their competitor.

      3. Brett*

        I am wondering how far the customer was willing to go and if this scared the manager.

        Someone who would take a picture of a private text over someone’s shoulder and send it to their employer, probably has no qualms about posting that same picture to social media and tagging the company. And then trying to get the story picked up by traditional media too.

        If the manager thought that was where this was headed, firing the OP was an easy way to protect themselves.

        1. Juli G.*

          That was my exact thought. And I realize I’m running with a big assumption but the OP would be way better getting fired as opposed to be plastered all over the internet.

        2. AdAgencyChick*

          +1. Even when I worked in retail 20 years ago, it was pretty common for a customer complaint to get someone fired. This was long before social media made it possible for a pissed-off customer to reach a far wider audience than just the corporate office.

          1. Retail Lifer*

            I’ve been written up a couple of times over the years for complaints that were greatly exaggerated. I didn’t do anything wrong, but both times the customers didn’t like their options so they threw a fit to anyone who would listen. And in retail, the customer is always right, even when there’s absolutely no proof.

            1. Just Saying*

              Oh I’ve had this done to me as well, even in a case when my direct supervisor was muttering that it was absolute bullshit she had to write me up for it, but the company was taking the ‘customer is always right even when they are wrong’ approach over a customer throwing a fit because I (as per company policy) refused to let them return a clearly worn item of clothing for a refund.

        3. BananaPants*

          That was my thought, too. This is how retail works – it costs less money to fire a part time employee than to handle the social media frenzy if the snooping customer took the pictures public.

        4. Honeybee*

          Or calling corporate and complaining, or writing a nasty letter to corporate. That also could threaten the manager’s job.

      4. Ad Astra*

        I was thinking the same thing. The customer put the company in a pretty dicey position by bringing that information to their attention. On the one hand, it’s information that they never should have seen. On the other hand, it’s somewhat relevant information, and the company does sort of look like they’re endorsing that view point if they don’t at least discipline the employee.

        So, I guess I disagree slightly with Alison because I think the bus lady was more wrong than the manager.

      5. PK*

        Perhaps the hiring manager was looking for an easy excuse to fire the OP, possibly her attitude about her manager’s weight showed in her daily interactions with her. I’m not saying that is a good excuse for the manger’s ridiculous reason for firing OP, but I’m speculating how this could have escalated so quickly.

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

          I think it’s the nature of retail. Customer complaints escalate extremely quickly — especially with the threat of news or social media exposure.

    2. WorkingMom*

      It seems like OP is a victim of this new version of society, where everyone thinks everything is everyone’s business. We see it all the time – servers posting pictures of checks with bad tips and then the internet flames the person who left the bad tip. (Where it’s certainly possible the customer was fed up with terrible service – but that never seems to be part of the conversation.) I read an article about a person who was a work conference, and leaned over to their friend sitting next to them and made a stupid joke about a product with a silly name (an inappropriate pun). They whispered this pun to their friend. The person sitting behind them recorded it and posted it online – the bad-joke teller was then publicly fired and flamed. I mean, come on. Can we be real here? This is getting out of control. I’m sorry this happened, OP. While your comments to your BF weren’t very nice, you are allowed to vent to your boyfriend privately.

      1. Buttonhole*

        Yes. This is why I increasingly feel almost scared to say what I think nowadays. One has to over-think what to say and text and email. You never know who hears, sees, or assumes.

        1. Jennifer*

          Yup. I went to an event over the weekend that was kind of not so well run and I have been debating writing the organizers an e-mail to politely suggest that if they mentioned certain things online rather than having people find out the hard way when they arrive, it might be better. However, I don’t know how much ah, blowback I might get from saying so so it’s probably not worth sticking my neck out for it. Which is a shame because that seems like a relatively easy fix to me, but….not worth the potential drama explosion I could get.

      2. Window Seat Anon*

        I completely agree with you. I feel like today’s social media society is far too reactionary and hateful. I also agree with Alison and other commenters though, that if the OP has this kind of attitude, it may have been spilling over into other areas. But we don’t know, OP might be an absolute model employee. But yes, I agree that this “you have to be overly polite/politically correct/completely inoffensive 100% of the time because some one might get offended and cry society” is getting really out of control.

      3. CA Admin*

        To be fair about the conference story, you’re missing a ton of context and that really distorts the picture. The woman who tweeted about the inappropriate joke suffered far more consequences than the two men who were loudly (not whispering) making sexual jokes at a work conference. She was fired, harassed, and stalked for over a year. She endured rape threats, death threats, and had a near impossible time finding a new job while this was going on.

        And to be fair? Two men making sexually inappropriate jokes (loudly) at a work conference in an industry that’s already hostile to women? Yeah, I’d post that on Twitter too, if I wasn’t afraid of getting rape and death threats for months after.

        1. Marie*

          Honestly, I think you’re missing some perspective here. They made a joke about “dongles”. The woman took a photo of them, posted it on twitter and tagged the conference, and kept making repeated comments about how they should be reprimanded. She was trying to publicly shame them, and then got shamed herself. She could have sent a private message, approached someone privately, but she decided to make a gigantic spectacle of the whole thing, and honestly brought a lot of it on herself (except the rape and death threats, which are always unacceptable). She had absolutely no qualms about ruining these guys’ careers and lives, but cried foul when others treated her the same way.

          1. CA Admin*

            First, she wasn’t the one who made the call for them to be reprimanded. She posted the picture, a news website picked it up, the guys started getting flack online for their behavior from other people, the guys got fired, *then* she was interviewed about the story, then she started getting harassed, then she got fired.

            Second, you’re missing a ton of context surrounding sexism/harassment in the tech industry and a culture of laxness around convention codes of conduct in that same industry. These conventions almost never have codes of conduct that explicitly forbid sexual (or really any kind of) harassment. Security isn’t empowered to deal with these problems, especially on the less severe end. Convention staff aren’t trained to deal with these issues. Generally there’s a “if I didn’t see it, then I’m not going to deal with it” attitude.

            So, what’s she supposed to do? Just take it? Who should she report it to–the convention staff who doesn’t care? Who should she message? The guys who’re so unprofessional that they don’t care about making sexual jokes during a work conference?

            She never called for them to be fired. But anyone displaying the poor judgement to make loud, sexual jokes at a work conference around large crowds of people, in an industry that’s known to have problems with sexual harassment? They deserve to be called out. And sometimes Twitter is the only forum one has.

            1. DMC*

              I get your thought process, and I do a great deal of SH prevention training. However, I think that public shaming is getting out of control and the media is acting as an enabler. In the case of the tech conference, I think the woman should not have jumped to trying to publicly shame two people for making a bad joke. Then there are nightmare cases such as the one where a woman publicly shamed a target customer whom she thought was acting like a pedophile by taking photos of kids when the man was actually taking a selfie in front of a Star Wars poster to send to his children. He was blasted around the Internet as folks tried to “identify” him. His friends, family (including children) saw him being labelled a pedophile and he actually had to contact the police and explain the situation. Enough is enough. Once you put something out there in public about another person, you cannot take it back.

              1. CA Admin*

                But those two examples are very different. One is a pretty clear-cut example of inappropriate sexual content at a work event. The other is much murkier where you don’t know why this guy is taking pictures of kids–pedophile or parent? Trying to compare these situations is a false equivalency.

          2. Just another techie*

            Have you been to these kinds of conferences? have you ever had to endure deliberate sexual jokes with “innocent” smokescreens like “but it’s really called a dongle!”? Have you ever reported harassment, hostile work environment, groping, or getting raped to a conference organizer only be told that you’re overreacting, or a feminazi bitch, or that you shouldn’t even be at the conference in the first place? Sometimes the only way to put a stop to violent harassing misogynist culture is to create a public stink that can’t be swept under the rug.

            1. WorkingMom*

              Just another Techie – I’m concerned about this quote from your comment:

              “Have you ever reported harassment, hostile work environment, groping, or getting raped to a conference organizer only be told that you’re overreacting, or a feminazi bitch, or that you shouldn’t even be at the conference in the first place? ”

              I have never been in that situation and no one ever should. What kind of conferences are the technology industry hosting where people are being raped and told you’re overreacting? Also – if this ever happens, to any reader here – please don’t go to conference organizers, please call 911 immediately. I’m not saying this in a condescending tone (I’m not sure this will read), but I truly mean it from a place of compassion.

          3. Observer*

            Actually, that’s not true. As others mentioned, the whole industry, and that conference in particular have a very significant issue with this. Furthermore, at least one of the men involved in this fiasco had a history of this kind of misbehavior – so much so that he had been warned that he needed to watch his behavior. And, he admitted that his firing was fair.

            It’s important to note that the woman tweeted what she heard without suggesting that these men be fired. She was simply trying to make the point that this is the kind of thing that is soooo common that men don’t even think twice about saying these thing LOUDLY – this wasn’t a comment whispered by one person into the ear of another person. What’s more there is a reason she didn’t approach someone privately – the history of these conferences is that the best case results is that nothing happens. Worst case? The person who complains winds up being pushed out or worse.

            It’s also important to note that the reaction to this mess went beyond her being fired. She faced defamation – the number of negative “facts” about her that were thrown around to justify not just the firing but everything else was astonishing. And, then there are the threats of violence, torture and murder. That goes WEEELLL beyond “unacceptable.”

        2. ImprovForCats*

          Thank you for saying this. This version of the story as “poor men bullied on social media by Strident Feminist” while completely ignoring the context and failing to report that aftermath is becoming m new Mcdonald’s hot coffee.

          1. Liz T.*

            Oh man thank you for knowing the truth about the McDonald’s coffee story, too! It drives me crazy how thoroughly McDonald’s won its smear campaign.

        3. WorkingMom*

          CA Admin – You’re so right – In the moment I remembered this story but I completely forgot about the twist where the internet turns on the tattler and it was very bad for her. I do remember it that now. Maybe stating it differently – but I do feel like we’re in this weird place in society where you can never bother/offend/upset anyone anymore. Granted, we should all just try to be kind in general and that’s how I live my life – give people the benefit of the doubt, assume goodness, etc. But generally speaking, our society has become so concerned with offending people that we’re going overboard. And whomever made the comment about how we’ve somehow created our own 1984 ‘thought police’ – that is SO true. I had never thought of it that way before! Craziness.

          Anyway – sorry for bringing up on the “dongle” story and botching it! But at least you all understood where I was trying to go with it, even if I didn’t relay it well! :)

      4. Marcela*

        The problem with your example is that in that particular area, those jokes are not something you hear once in a lifetime. They are there, everyday, every time somebody decides to joke. I do not think the “offenders” should have been fired, but they absolutely needed to be exposed. In a perfect world, you could tell them they are being inappropriate and they would learn from it or at least respect your opinion and refrain from joking in your presence, but in this world, if you dare to say something, puf, most of the time hell would break loose: jokers like that do no accept kindly their jokes are not appropriate. The only time I was successful, was when the joker had a daughter and I asked him if he would like her to hear what I did every day.

      5. My Fake Name is Laura*

        Your example about the work conference is missing some context though, at least if you’re talking about the “dongle” incident. The particular industry this conference was targeting is having some very constant, widespread, and high profile problems with sexism, leading to the harassment (from covert “jokes” to overt discrimination and event assault) of women who are just trying to do their jobs.

      6. Dynamic Beige*

        You know, I don’t think it’s that everyone thinks everything is everyone’s business, but by making phone calls in a public place, people will hear you. By texting on the bus, people can see over your shoulder. It’s like people think they’re walking around in this cone of silence just because they’ve got a phone in their hand. I love the old hotels that have telephone rooms in them. There aren’t very many of them around, but in some places there would be a bank of doors with a phone inside so you could make your call in privacy. When was the last time someone excused themselves to answer a call or look at a text? Nope, they just pick the phone up and it’s as if no one else is there.

        Before everyone could have a phone/camera/recording device/notetaker/connection to the entire world in their hand, what would the OP have done? She would have huffed and stewed silently because she would have known that standing up and yelling that the lady sitting next to her was obese and reeked wouldn’t have looked good. Once she got home she would have vented her spleen to her BF or whoever about the nightmare commute she had and — no one would have ever have known. There would be no record of the words anywhere, they would be wind. She wouldn’t have made a call like that on her phone, either. It was the presumed privacy of texting that made her think it was “safe” to say something that she only would have said once she got home.

        1. the gold digger*

          By texting on the bus, people can see over your shoulder.

          That is the part I don’t get. I can barely read my own phone, much less someone else’s. Throw in movement and I would have to be trying really, really hard to eavesdrop (or whatever the reading equivalent is).

      7. BRR*

        This is exactly what I thought as well. I’m getting tired of everybody policing everybody else. I’ve seen people post broadly about complete strangers asking if anybody knows who so and so is because somebody sneezed and they didn’t say God bless you. And what kills me is nobody is perfect all the time. There are certainly situations that might warrant it but give people a reasonable break.

        1. PlainJane*

          Exactly. It’s ironic – dystopian novels like 1984 portrayed constant surveillance as perpetrated by an evil, authoritarian government. Yet we’re creating something like that (well, OK, not quite that bad) all by ourselves. There have been times when people kept silent about things they shouldn’t, but it seems like the pendulum has swung the other way. Some folks have trouble distinguishing between serious things that should be reported (e.g. child abuse) and everyday peccadilloes that are no one else’s business.

          1. fposte*

            It’s also muddied by the fact that we’re essentially volunteering for surveillance. Sure, I’ll put it on Facebook and Instagram. Sure, you can have my location in your app.

      8. Natalie*

        The scale might be different because of the internet, but old timey small town life wasn’t a bastion of “live and let live” either.

        1. Ad Astra*

          There have always been people who try to get others fired for their opinions, and there have always been employers who will fire someone for their opinions. We just hear about it more these days because we’re so connected. And, to some extent, the particular beliefs we take issue with have changed.

      9. Biff*

        I recently had an experience that made me decide to more or less shut down my online accounts– even if you have the expectation of privacy, it can be taken away even when it shouldn’t be, and then where are you? And it’s hard, you know, not to judge overshare.

      10. Sy*

        Are you talking about the ‘dongle’ comment? That was completely inappropriate and made women at a mostly male conference feel further alienated. Are you at a professional conference? Maybe you should act like a professional.

        1. Anna*

          I really struggle with the dongle comment. On the one hand, these guys were overheard. On the other hand, it was a comment shared between three people and not directed at anyone else and it was overheard by a fourth person who was not part of the conversation. On the third hand, it probably could have waited.

      11. Jay*

        Pitiful. This reminded me, I worked at Kinko’s many years ago. We had a private (as in, created by people, not the company – it was visible to anyone though) website where employees went to talk amongst each other. Folks would ask questions about how to do things, but mostly it was to vent. Corporate knew about the site, but generally didn’t seem to mind as long as things were kept general. No names, no real specific details, no sharing private information, etc. Starbucks has a similar site that I stumbled on one day. I’m sure many other large retail operations have things like this. It’s a virtual extension of the same discussion that happens in break rooms and at happy hours every day. It should be fine, but instead, we have to turn it into some giant crime against humanity. This is another reason I avoid people at all costs.

        1. Basiorana*

          Brilliant, honestly. Employees get their legally-mandated right to talk about workplace conditions and corporate can watch it to see where it goes.

  3. Kvaren*

    “Your comment about your store manager is rude and out of line.”

    I re-read the letter three times, and I still cannot relate this piece of criticism back to what the OP wrote.

    Not that I’m defending the OP in any way. I really don’t want to touch this with a ten foot pole.

    1. Christy*

      It’s the last paragraph–“I’m now struggling to find another job, because my store manager has refused to let any of the department managers give me a reference, presumably because she’s offended because, well, she’s also the type to pin the poor size 2 girl next to her against the wall!”

      The OP is saying that her manager is fat, too.

      1. NickelandDime*

        And this is why Alison needed to tell her she played an important role in this mess too. I’m sure this attitude spilled into other areas at work, and it finally caught up with her. She needs to do some reflecting here – but I don’t like that they fired her for this.

        1. Cat*

          And, well, it’s quite possible that the manager was thinking “great, now I know what she’s saying about me every time she’s pissed off about something I do. I don’t want that in my workspace.” I don’t agree with the decision to fire the OP, but when you know someone is just refraining from insulting you for your weight (or some other physical or personal characteristic) because you’re their boss or because you haven’t done something to piss them off just yet, that takes a psychic toll.

          1. NickelandDime*

            I definitely see your point. Sometimes in life, some really bad things have to happen to us to make a change for the better. I think this, for the OP, is that incident. I hope she takes this very huge hint.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              I hope so too. I think OP has a lot of growing up to do. Life is going to surprise the hell out of her.

              1. OhNo*

                Just guessing, but I think it already did. Her employer’s response to this may have been a little over the top, but she seems awfully surprised by it.

          2. Jady*

            Glad I’m not the only one thinking this! Maybe it’s not nice or selfish, but in her boss’s position, I would have fired her for exactly that reason.

            I agree it should have never gotten to her boss in the first place, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to work with a person who I believed thought so lowly of myself.

          3. Biff*

            But the reality is, we’re all refraining from saying things we think. All the time. The fact that we are refraining is professional, it shows manners. Thought police is just wrong.

            1. Cat*

              As I said, I don’t think firing the OP was the right decision. But actually knowing your co-worker will think “fat cow” next time they’re pissed off at you is different than knowing it’s a theoretical possibility.

              1. Cat*

                And, in fact, not just that they’re thinking it – you know now there’s a good possibility your employee’s stories about their job include “my boss, the fat cow.”

                1. Biff*

                  But if it wasn’t fat cow, it would probably be some other pejorative. Are you saying that the trouble is NOT knowing that the employee probably has some choice pejorative when blowing off steam, but knowing the pejorative is the problem?

                2. Cat*

                  Yes, of course the particulars is a problem. Not everyone does constantly think about how disgusting the fat people around them are – knowing that someone you work with (a) does, and (b) likes to bust out the weight related insults when annoyed is actually something that’s going to make a lot of people uncomfortable around them.

            2. frequentflyer*

              Thought police is just wrong!!! Agree 100%.

              Imagine being a retail staff and being nice to mean customers all the time… you’ve got to relieve that stress somewhere. I pity OP, it must have been a bad day and bad luck.

      2. Adam*

        I wonder if this might be contributing factor as to why the manager let her go in that she took it personally as a fellow overweight person?

        1. The Other Dawn*

          I wonder about that also. As a formerly obese person, if I were the manager I would have LOVED to fire someone who made comments like that. Not that I would–it’s not like she did it while on the clock serving a customer–but it would hit very close to home and I’d have a really hard time having respect for the employee after that.

            1. Adam*

              It’s a possibility for sure. In my experience though in general I think it’s more along the lines of these days establishments will usually lean on the side of retaining a customer. Also the OP was part-time retail so it’s not like the store is going to be severely impacted by her position being empty for a short time, nor are they likely to have trouble filling it.

            2. frequentflyer*

              Seems like it. But it also seems like OP thought, hey the manager is picking on me cos she’s fat too!

              Still I have to say I pity OP. What you text privately is nobody’s business. I would feel so stressed if I had to be nice lalala all the time even in private.

          1. Ad Astra*

            Yes, there’s no doubt that the situation would affect the way the manager sees the employee, which wouldn’t bode well for her career at that company even if they hadn’t fired her. When you find out a direct report has a prejudice against something that describes you, there’s no going back.

            1. Anon369*

              You have to set it aside though! I understand the desire, but you shouldnt fire someone just because they have views* you respect.

              *no discriminatory views

              1. Ad Astra*

                Well, having a nasty attitude about fat people is what I would consider discriminatory. Just because it’s legal to discriminate against fat people doesn’t mean it’s ok.

                But my real point was that this OP would have lost her manager’s respect, perhaps irreparably, even if she hadn’t been fired. You can choose not to fire someone, but it’s much harder to restore your opinion of them once you know they hold some not-so-nice opinions.

                1. Marian the Librarian*

                  >Well, having a nasty attitude about fat people is what I would consider discriminatory.

                  Yes, 100%, and your “private” opinions it can absolutely bleed into how well you do your job. If she works in a clothing store, is she one of those sales reps who will ask fat customers to leave because “we have nothing that will fit you here”? Or does she give the stink face to fat customers/patrons unknowingly? I would not hire someone like this, or keep them in a public-facing job.

                  If I were this person’s manager, even if I hadn’t noticed this behavior beforehand, I would worry that she would treat customers she saw as “fat cows” negatively in the future. I probably wouldn’t have fired her straight out, but I would definitely have let her know that her views aren’t in line with what I expect from my employees, and I would be keeping an eagle eye on her when she dealt with any fat customers in the future.

                2. Brisvegan*


                  As an inbetweenie size woman, if I were the customer, I would not be comfortable shopping where I would be judged as a fat cow by a staff member. I may let my friends know about this sort of bigotry, too.

                  I wouldn’t have deliberately snooped or taken a picture, but I would have avoided the store. If I had been a regular customer previously, I might have given a friendly manager a heads up, so they could keep an eye on the salesperson’s attitude. I wouldn’t expect a sacking, but a word in their ear about the value of all people and customers might be appropriate.

                  It’s quite possible this sort of disdain is picked up by customers who don’t see the text despite “polite” behaviour. We of a certain size are pretty used to being “not seen”, being advised that they don’t cater to us, being given a disdainful look, not getting friendly service, but just bare politeness etc. I am not even out of straight sizing, so I can only read about and imagine the rudeness my fatter friends get.

                  OP, you sound young and not aware of how bad and bigotted this type of language is. Please think about treating all people with dignity and not aiming slurs based on body type at them. I suspect you didn’t realise how much you have internalised fat hatred, but maybe look around the web at Health at Every Size and Fat Acceptance movement work to see how this hurts people.

                3. No Name Today*

                  I’m with Brisvegan. As someone who ended up through no virtue of my own on the “skinny” side of the coin, with a family of origin of similarly sized people, I learned a lot of fat hatred as a kid and young adult (and some other unsavory judgementalness as well). Then I started reading about the truly insidious kinds of discrimination people face for their weight, and movements like Health At Every Size, and the actual research about weight and health and all the things that our society conflates together, and was frankly appalled at myself for the things I used to think. As an adult I’ve tried to make myself a better person, a more caring person, a less judgmental person. I’d recommend the process for OP, for everyone really. My life, just for me, really is better without those thoughts in my head.

        2. CMT*

          There are always tons of comments about managers who don’t have hiring/firing authority. This is retail and I just don’t see this coming from only the immediate manager. It sounds like corporate just doing whatever’s necessary to keep a whiny customer happy.

        1. Rita*

          On my first read I thought the OP was talking sitting next to a coworker in her text, not the person next to her on the bus. I was so confused, mostly because why would retail employees be sitting down like that? Reading about halfway through the comments it finally clicked.

  4. Not Today Satan*

    Wow… this is scary. Why do so many people feel like if they’re offended in any way by what a person does off the clock, the “offender” doesn’t deserve to have a job? To a certain extent I get it, like with people being racist on social media. But in this case the OP was having a semi-private conversation that the customer had to try to see. I wonder if the fact that the OP is a retail worker (a servant in the eyes of many customers) comes into play here….

    Calling someone a fat cow is nagl, but we’ve all been less than generous towards people taking up space (or smelling, or being loud) on public transit. I have a client-facing role at my company and I hate to think that I could lose my job just by a client seeing me being rude (in this case, privately!!).

    1. Mike C.*

      I’m overweight have had to deal with comments like this, and even I think it’s way too far to cost someone’s job over. The attitude is disgusting, but the labor implications are orders of magnitude worse.

      1. LBK*

        Agreed – I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with firing her over if she did it in the store or publicly on social media, but in a private text conversation that no one should ever have seen except her and her boyfriend!? That’s insane. That is far beyond the scope of what the employer should have access to.

        1. BRR*

          This is a such an invasion of privacy. How would this customer like it if the LW let their employer know they spied on a person’s text conversation on public transit and sent it to the LW’s employer to get them fired?

            1. neverjaunty*

              “Eye for an eye” actually meant that punishment should be proportional, i.e., you take an eye for an eye, not a life for an eye.

      2. Three Thousand*

        Yeah, the OP’s attitude toward fat people is gross, but at least she didn’t do anything about it but privately vent to her boyfriend. We simply don’t get to police anyone’s private thoughts that never get expressed in a public setting.

        The busybody’s attitude to service workers is beyond disgusting and horrifying, and the fact that she acted on it in this way makes her a truly loathsome, petty, thoroughly power-mad individual. The worker is “two-faced” because she was nice to me before and now she’s revealed herself to be a human being capable of feeling more than one emotion? She was supposed to be a service robot who existed for the sole purpose of smiling and me and making my shopping experience more pleasant, and now that I know she isn’t, I want her fired?

        Talk about treating people like things.

        1. OhNo*

          That’s a fantastic point. I’m going to have to agree that the busybody is probably the worst offender in this scenario. The boss is a close second, but this person is just… wow.

        2. Kelly*

          It would be interesting to know if the busybody with too much time on her hands has any biases that could be termed discrimination towards certain groups. Most of us have both our conscious and unconscious biases and know we have no business making judgements of others. I went to a rural high school and have some classmates as facebook “friends”. I’ve had to hide some of their posts because of the things they do post that are contradictory – example one female classmate posts HAES (healthy at every size) and fat acceptance stories. She also posts story that body shame women who are skinnier and homophobic comments. For someone who wants others to accept her shape, she doesn’t come across as too accepting of others whom she disagrees with.

        3. Just Saying*


          That’s the nature of customer service jobs. I am also a student working part time and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had inner thoughts wishing the insufferable customer I’m dealing with would just go stand on a ton of lego already, but putting a smile on my face and being polite is my JOB, not a sign of a two-faced employee.

          And the irony is….if OP didn’t be ‘two faced’ and was bitchy to the busybody….busybody would complain too.

          You just can’t win with people who think they are above you because you have a service job.

        4. frequentflyer*

          Agree 100%! Thoughts are private! I would be beyond stressed if I had to think nice and happy thoughts all the time and not have an avenue to vent.

        5. DMented Kitty*

          I follow a satirical customer service website and I’ve seen people like this busybody. People who snap photos of retail employees out on a smoke break (or just having a break), posting into company Facebook page saying, “how it’s not a good image for the company” like no employee has a right to have a break. The busybody is probably the same type.

      3. frequentflyer*

        I know, it’s like the punishment is too harsh for the crime. I mean, for all we know OP could have been really fake and nice to overweight customers, just that the nastiness comes out in private texts.

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      This. Every time I see facebook schadenfreude over someone losing their job, I think what a slippery slope it is to everything we do in our lives being a fire-able offense.

      Yes, there are somethings that are so egregious that it really would reflect poorly on the company’s reputation, but I would hate to think that a less than gracious moment where I privately vent my frustration to my partner could cost me my job.

      1. Adam*

        I go back and forth on the Facebook thing since you put it out there and I hold the belief that nothing on Facebook is private no matter what your settings say. I like to think my privacy settings are at their peak but I still don’t express many controversial opinions there because I don’t want it to come back and bite me.

        Texting though? This is nuts. Sure what the OP said in her text was mean (none of us are angels), but she wasn’t saying it to the person. The woman in question probably has no idea any of this happened. It was a private 1-to-1 with her boyfriend which is all it ever would have been had the person behind her not made it a point to watch and capture it. Reporting it to her employer jumps the line for me from invasion of privacy to full on thought police.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          My standard rule with facebook/twitter/instagram is don’t post anything I wouldn’t want my mother, priest, or boss seeing. Thanks to screen capture, once something is up, it’s up forever — even if you regret it and delete it.

          1. Adam*

            That’s pretty close to how I look at it, which honestly has made me wonder why I have Facebook in the first place. It’s not like I express myself a lot online to begin with, but my Sunday School persona I have gotten increasingly bored with over the years.

            1. VintageLydia USA*

              I keep mine because it’s the one instant messaging service pretty much all my friends are guaranteed to have. I also have friends who are cosplayers and artists and stuff so it’s nice to see their latest work.

            2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

              It’s an easy way to keep up with everyone’s baby, dog, and travel photos :)

            1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

              I treat my online/SM commentary like sorority rush – no booze, religion, or politics… though when they added they “NTDYALF liked this post” feature a little bit of my political leanings were visible.

              I’m not saying that every one should do this (or should even have to) but for me it’s just easier to not post things than take a risk.

              1. Ad Astra*

                Our guideline was “No boys, no booze, no bars… and be careful about Bibles (religion) and bank accounts.” We could have added “ballots” but I’m only just now thinking of it.

                1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

                  Ours was “no booze, boys, bibles, or Bills” because Bill Clinton was president.

            2. Daisy Steiner*

              But there’s nothing wrong with your boss seeing that you support Labour when they’re a Conservative, is there? At least not in modern democratic nations and assuming your boss is a reasonable person who won’t hold it against you.

      2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Especially if the OP’s job is something like retail. If she were a police officer and someone saw her texting racist slurs, or if she worked with mentally disabled people and it came out that she was making fun of them behind their backs, those would be more egregious – but a cashier doesn’t have much power to abuse even if she holds prejudiced attitudes.

    3. Ad Astra*

      People increasingly see others as “representing their company” in all contexts, and it’s problematic. I don’t like being expected to conduct myself like a professional 24 hours a day. Sometimes I want to get a little drunk at a bar or gently heckle the opposing team at a football game or tell someone exactly what I think about something controversial. Some industries/positions have always been a “people are always watching you” situation, but that line of thinking is creeping into industries and roles that used to allow for some anonymity.

      1. Jennifer*

        I am getting pretty well over my industry, which I used to love and now would kinda like out of (or at least do something drastically different than what I am doing), but…yeah, I should probably be more “rah rah it’s great” in public just in case.

      2. Laurel Gray*

        Strongly agree. I still can’t believe teachers have been fired/asked to resign for casual pics of them at a bar with a drink in their hand. I think it sucks that society is beginning to hold every day average joes and janes to some very unrealistic standards of “professionalism” yet we tune in which brings celebs and pseudo celebs millions because they do the exact opposite.

    4. Anonathon*

      Totally creepy. Especially because the OP, well, did the right thing. She didn’t have a loud phone conversation that someone could overhead, didn’t wear anything that identified her as an employee, and waited until work was over. She was texting, which is not visible or audible to bystanders … unless they are in full-on spy mode. This stranger had to be actively looking to get her in trouble, which is creepy, and no one really benefited in the end — except maybe the stranger got to feel self-righteous?

      (Again, the comments were gross. But they also weren’t the passenger’s business.)

      1. the gold digger*

        (Again, the comments were gross. But they also weren’t the passenger’s business.)

        If you don’t like what you see when you read over someone’s shoulder, then – don’t read over someone’s shoulder.

    5. Stranger than fiction*

      Yeah I doubt if there’s anything in the employee handbook about making derisive comments privately and on on your own time I mean seriously

    6. Collarbone High*

      I sometimes wonder if these people have thought this through. A service worker might well be one missed paycheck away from being unable to pay rent (hell, a lot of people are). Do people genuinely believe that a fellow human deserves to be evicted, be homeless, be unable to feed their kids because that person accidentally brought them Coke instead of Diet Coke?

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        ^ This. This is why I can’t ever imagine going to a manager.

        I always give the front line person an opportunity to fix it, and if it’s something out of their control, let them call a manager over (the situation I’m thinking of here was when the Target register ate my receipt and then wouldn’t let the clerk print a new one). Even then I’m all smiles and very relaxed.

        I can’t imagine a situation worth someone getting fired over.

    7. JGray*

      I agree. There are worse things that people do in public and this person was merely calling someone a name. I think that we have all called people names. The LW is coming off as rather grating but perhaps that is because she doesn’t care that she called someone a name and honestly in a way she shouldn’t. We are all entitled our opinions and saying something to a BF is the best way to deal with those opinions. Although I do think that she needs to get over body shaming people because making immediate negative judgements means that she will probably miss out on things because she has a closed mind. I am probably just making my own judgement here and its not completely her fault.

      You make a valid point about retail workers- I have worked retail before and I remember clearly a mom one time telling her daughter that she didn’t have to hang anything up because that is what I was there for (to rehang the 20 prom dresses they had tried on). I barely made over minimum wage (which at the time was $5.50/hour), in high school (so about the same age as the girl) and yes hanging up clothes was part of my job but to make the comment was uncalled for. The mom had obviously never worked for retail & had people think they could treat you badly just for your job.

  5. KT*

    Everyone was in the wrong year, bar none.

    OP, it does suck what happened to you, really it does. But please do rethink how you can come across when you make comments about those gross fat people squishing the size 2 girl. You had my complete sympathy up until that point.

    1. some1*

      I don’t want to pile-on, but it’s worth pointing out that I used to be a Size 2 and now wear a larger size. It wouldn’t be okay to have this attitude no matter what, but don’t look at someone like the woman on the boss or your old boss and assume you could never be that size.

    2. Not me*

      Yep. I get that the crowded seating sucks, that’s, like, the story of most plane rides I’ve been on, including one across the Atlantic. But I think mentally taking it out on the other person, who’s also squished and uncomfortable and maybe self-conscious, makes the whole thing even more unpleasant for both of you.

      1. MLM Survivor*

        This story reminds me a guy I worked with years ago. He traveled a lot and frequently flew on a particular airline. On one flight, he was seated next to a “bigger” gentleman. Former coworker was so angry that he snapped a photo of the gentlemen “spilling over into his seat” (his words, not mine) and sent it to the airline’s PR people. The airline ended up refunding him for that particular flight and giving him a voucher. Former coworker (who admittedly was a major jerk to pretty much everyone) was positively giddy when he retold the story.

      2. myswtghst*

        Exactly! I get so frustrated with people who get mad at larger passengers for simply existing, instead of the airline that is continually shrinking the seats to cram even more people on board so they can make more money. Trust me, the larger passenger is just as frustrated as you are, and probably even more uncomfortable (I fly enough that I can usually upgrade my seat, but when I can’t, I usually end up with bruised kneecaps, thanks to the person in front of me who just has to recline as far and with as much vigor as they possibly can into my legs).

    3. Elizabeth West*

      Yes, I agree. OP, I was kind of with you even on the text stuff (thought I thought the text itself was rude) until that last sentence. You might want to consider how your attitude is coming off when you deal with larger customers. And if you have a professional dispute and you need to discuss it, it would be wise to refrain from that kind of thinking. I know you felt piled on, but I hope you wouldn’t resort to personal attacks as a way to defend yourself.

  6. Fat Person*

    OH my goodness, someone had the temerity to BE FAT IN PUBLIC.

    That said, your employer was wrong to fire you. But you’re not a nice person and I have to wonder if your attitude didn’t come off and the employer didn’t just use the incident as a reason to get rid of you because you’re not a nice person.

    As a fat person, I try as hard as I can to take up as little room as I can. I crush myself into a small seat. Shaming fat people doesn’t make them magically not fat. And if you think that I’m the same as someone being loud or smelling on public transit, you’re also not a nice person.

    1. Boo*

      It doesn’t automatically make OP a horrible person. We’ve all said or done things which aren’t very nice, especially when young, which I’m guessing OP is. I remember when I was about 11 (in about 1992/3) the insult everyone at school used as a matter of course was “spastic”. I had no idea it was offensive. I was just an ignorant child. Fortunately I’ve done some growing up since then and would never use that word now. OP has some growing up to do too, but it doesn’t make her a bad person.

      1. Ad Astra*

        Sorry to derail, BUT: Are you from outside the U.S.? I only learned a few years ago that “spastic” is offensive in the UK and I think some other English-speaking countries; I think some American company with international ties said Twitter was being “spastic” and people were really upset about it. Apparently, it’s similar to saying someone/something is being “retarded,” which certainly wouldn’t go over well in the U.S.

        I had just never heard “spastic” used in a clinical context, and when I heard people use it casually it wasn’t a particularly harsh insult; it was like calling someone a goof.

        1. Jennifer*

          Honestly, the only time I ever heard anyone say “spaz” in America was watching the Buffy episode, “Band Candy,” in which the principal yells, “Summers, you drive like a spaz!” I just assumed he meant she was driving while hyper. Had no idea it was a whopping insult because people just don’t say “spastic” here.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            It was used much more frequently in the 80s; I am clumsy as heck and was called a spaz all through school. I had no clue about the offensive context until I was in college (nor did my friends who used to tease me for being clumsy).

        2. fposte*

          As recently as the 1980s, “spastic” was formal enough language in the UK that there were charity boxes in shops with cheerful drawings and bouncy text that said “Have fun helping spastics!”

          That was a shocker to my American eyes :-).

        3. OhNo*

          It’s considered offensive here in the U.S., too, at least among certain communities. “Spastic” has been used as a semi-derogatory term for people with CP, MS, Parkinson’s and other muscular or neurological disabilities. I think here in the U.S., though, it hasn’t been used as much, so that’s not as well known. It’s kind of like “lame” or “handicapped”, in that some people find it quite offensive, some think it’s a silly thing to get worked up about, and many just don’t care.

          Just as an aside: I once got a dressing down from someone with CP (I think?) for using that word in conversation – although they were nice enough to apologize once I explained that I was using it to describe my own actual medical condition, not as a slur. :)

        4. afiendishthingy*

          We said “spaz” as an insult when I was a kid, but I’ve definitely known for at least ten years that it’s not ok. I live in the US.

          I don’t think there’s sufficient evidence for us to say OP is a “horrible person”, but she is using some pretty hateful language.

      2. StarTeezer*

        The OP is in graduate school, not grade school. We don’t need to be infantilizing twenty-somethings to excuse ruse behavior. Her comment about the passenger on the bus was rude, but private. Her comment about her former boss was rude and public.

    2. Kyrielle*

      To be fair, OP did also say the person next to her smelled significantly. Which may or may not be a medical issue for them, but it wasn’t just the being squashed, although OP focused on that. Plus it was on OP’s way home from work – after however many hours that was of being “on” in customer service mode, which I at least would find draining.

      Not saying the OP was right here – the attitude bugs me quite a bit – just saying that the situation had more than one piece, not just the person’s weight, and therefore this is probably an example of OP at their worst, not their best.

      1. VictoriaHR*

        Yeah but she also brought up her boss’s weight and resemblance to the woman on the bus – and had to, of course, let us all know that she herself is a tiny size 2 – so IMO it’s the fatness that was the true evil that she was upset about.

        1. Ad Astra*

          And while it’s totally possible that the woman on the bus really did stink, it’s a pretty prevalent stereotype that fat people smell bad. It’s hard for me to not see a connection there.

    3. Apollo Warbucks*

      But the OP clearly states that the person on the bus with her smelt really bad. That must have made the whole journey more uncomfortable I can see a combination of the OPs personal space being invaded and the bad BO causing her to be more upset with the situation than she might have otherwise been.

        1. TL -*

          depends on the bus route. Some of the buses/trains around here only run 1x/hr or stop early (7/8pm) and I’m in a US city with excellent transportation.

          Plus, if she was on the inside seat, getting up and changing seats (assuming there’s somewhere to go) would’ve probably hurt the woman’s feelings, whereas a text message certainly would have no effect on her.

          1. frequentflyer*

            I know!!! I’m always stuck in such situations but I personally think it would hurt the person’s feelings more if I got up and changed seats. It’s Really Mentally Stressful being stuck on an hour-long ride with a smelly person (and I’m purposefully NOT mentioning size here in case I get mauled) and yes, I do text to vent when I’m in such situations.

            Seriously though, would it be more acceptable if I got up and changed seats, instead of venting privately? I personally doubt so but would like to know others’ views.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Not necessarily, if she were polite about it and just said, “Excuse me.” If she got all in a huff, then yeah, probably. If she were moving closer to the front, I’d just assume she wanted to sit up front. People shuffle around on buses all the time.

        2. SJ*

          Not necessarily. If I got off my bus to avoid someone’s BO, I’d have to wait 45 mins (depending on time of day) for the next one.

          Not all cities have frequent/reliable public transport.

      1. Avery*

        Yeah, but that’s the nature of the city bus, at least in my city. Whenever I have to ride it, I do so with the expectation that it will be crowded and I probably will not be sitting next to Ryan Gosling or Benedict Cumberbatch, but rather next to someone who is smelly and/or drunk. If it’s so crowded that riders must stand in the middle, then I can expect to have someone’s butt in my face for the next 20 minutes. Getting upset at that is like getting upset that there are children at Disneyland.

        I will say though, I don’t think OP’s firing was fair. If that’s company policy, then everyone working at the company, including the manager, should have their personal phones inspected for texts that could be offensive to any member of the population, right? Except if they did that to everyone, no one would want to work there.

    4. sunny-dee*

      Also — SHE DIDN’T SHAME THE FAT PERSON. That person presumably wasn’t reading her private texts (and if she was, then shame on her, anyway). She sent a private text to her boyfriend about an unpleasant situation.

      1. LBK*

        I don’t think shaming in this context means publicly decrying them, it’s about thinking of a person a certain way due to their weight.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yeah–I couldn’t do it even if I felt that way; I’m too paranoid the person next to me will be able to see my screen if I accidentally turn it at just the right/wrong angle, let alone someone behind me.

      2. Laurel Gray*

        Agree. She did what many of us do and many people do here in the comments when they discuss their coworkers and bosses. I’m sure there are commenters who would be mortified if something they posted to AAM about a coworker or boss got back to them/effected their employment.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I would call out anyone here for gratuitously criticizing their coworker’s weight or appearance (and have, on the rare occasion that it’s happened); it’s not a social norm that’s being made up just for this letter-writer.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          Most adults can discuss concerns with other people without devolving into personal attacks about appearance. It’s what separates us from the Yahoo commentariat. Anyone who brings in petty personal attacks on a professional issue should absolutely be called out.

              1. Turanga Leela*

                WAKE UP SHEEPLE

                I have a personal rule that if someone says the word “sheeple” unironically, I stop listening.

                1. ImprovForCats*

                  I have this rule, too. Although it also makes me laugh because people who say it seem to think they are being really original with that mind-blowing expression.

      3. Katie*

        If the two were seated as close together as the LW implies, and considering someone seated behind LW was able to read her screen without it being obvious to LW that someone was leaning over her shoulder, the passenger could have glanced over and seen “fat cow” on the screen and deduced that LW was talking about her.

    5. Hotstreak*

      Fat Person you should seriously turn the mirror on yourself for a minute. You are shaming the letter writer for her reaction to this situation, while at the same time saying that shaming does not precipitate desired change. What exactly is the point of this, if not to be mean and cruel towards her for having different thoughts and opinions than yours?

      1. So go ahead and hate me...*

        I’m not condoning what the OP did, and I’m certainly not petite or svelte, but of average size…able to fit within the confines of a public transportation seat; but if I was squashed by a smelly person who took up more than their own allocated seating on a bus, I’d be annoyed and grossed out. I’d probably be so bold as to excuse myself from the seat and move someplace else, even if I had to stand. If I told or texted someone about the experience, I wouldn’t couch it in pleasant terms.

      2. YogiJosephina*

        I have to be honest – this line of thinking really bugs me.

        It’s the same old false equivalency we see all the time: “liberals are so intolerant for not accepting my different opinions!” (Translation: “liberals are so intolerant for not letting me be racist or oppressive!”) “When a POC is hateful towards their oppressor it’s “just as bad!” as the original offense!” (Translation: “When it’s ME, the person of privilege, being inconvenienced/upset, that’s just as awful as systemic oppression because I’m just that important as a (member of dominant group.”))

        Someone pushing back against problematic and phobic thinking/statements is NOT the same thing as someone using their privilege to oppress or shame someone who is marginalized, with the backing of institutionalized power. Come on now. It’s not “having different thoughts or opinions.” It’s fat-shaming. It’s an ism, and it needs to be silenced, stopped, and shut down. All isms do. And no matter how much people try to cry opposite, putting an end to oppressive structures will NEVER be intolerant, just because it inconveniences the person of privilege in the situation.

        It never ceases to amaze me how so often privileged groups only seem to recognize “intolerance” when they’re the ones who are being put out.

        Something to consider.

        1. Hotstreak*

          I do disagree with you that this is fat shaming. If the intent was to make someone feel ashamed about who they are, then the comment would have been directed towards LW’s coworker, or boss. LW may be annoying or hateful, but without intent I do not believe there is shaming. This is just where I choose to draw the line, and there’s obviously a lot of grey area in the subject.

          To be clear I support eliminating systemic intolerance. I think that ideally those changes would be made without alienating entire groups of people, but rather work with them to understand and change their perceptions. It’s not fair to demonize people for thoughts and beliefs that have been deeply ingrained in their psyche since they were children, by their parents or other aspects of the culture they grew up in. It’s hard to imagine how difficult it is to change theses ideas, it must be like trying to convince someone that God does (or does not) exist, when they have a deeply held belief to the opposite. Attacking puts people on the defensive, and they may stop making outwardly offensive comments to save face, but their core beliefs will not change.

          1. Mookie*

            If the intent was to make someone feel ashamed about who they are, then the comment would have been directed towards LW’s coworker, or boss.

            The OP did direct a comment towards their boss, comparing them to the passenger. It’s in the last line of the letter.

          2. YogiJosephina*

            I do understand that deeply ingrained beliefs are very hard to overcome. That said, it is still VERY much someone’s responsibility to overcome them when it is revealed that they believe something problematic. If enough people start to push back on your beliefs and tell you that you REALLY do hold some deeply offensive ideals/convictions, it IS your responsibility to educate yourself and try to overcome that. And yes, it may take a very long time for your core beliefs to change, but honestly? Stopping making outwardly offensive comments IS the first step of that. That IS an improvement. And that is where you should start. “Sorry, but that’s just how I was raised/that’s what I’ve always believed since childhood” is not a get out of jail free card to continue to live in ignorance. When you’re young, fine. But eventually, you should be old enough to question and know better.

            And yes, this was fat-shaming. For Heaven’s sake, she called someone a “fat cow.” You don’t really get much more shameful than that. Shaming doesn’t have to be directed at the person vocally and outwardly to be shaming. It can also be a belief or a thought, which undoubtedly will color your interactions with said group in small ways, even if you swear up and down that it wouldn’t. If you see a black person and think to yourself the n-word, you’re still being racist even if you don’t go up to them and call them that to their face. Internal thought processes are still very much a part of systemic oppression.

            1. Not me*

              Thoughts? Thoughts can shame other people?

              I’m absolutely against racism and against harassing people for anything personal like weight. Private beliefs and opinions can lead to behavior that supports systemic oppression. What you think in your own head does not shame anyone else, and I’m feeling a little 1984 right now.

              1. YogiJosephina*

                Uh…yes. They can. For all the reasons I mention above.

                I’m kind of over the whole “GOD! THE THOUGHT POLICE!!!” thing. Because guess what? Some thoughts are NOT OKAY. You can’t always control them, fine, sure, but you have to at least know that what you’re thinking is the result of broken belief systems and ideals that a lot of this world is built on and actively work to change them. Belief systems and ideals that DO shame other people.

                Think about it for a second from the marginalized point of view. You KNOW there are people out there, EVERY SINGLE DAY, that walk past you if you’re a POC and think a derogatory term, or who call you a nasty name in your head if you’re overweight, or whatever. And that feels like crap and IS part of shaming. Knowing that there are stereotypes, prejudices and judgments about you based on what group you belong to, even if no one screams it in your face, can ABSOLUTELY make someone feel ashamed or badly about themselves. And it’s not really on them to “rise above it.” It’s on the system to not be that way, and on others to at least ATTEMPT to not think that way.

                1. Helka*

                  Beautifully written, thank you.

                  I get this a lot, because I have the temerity to be both handicapped and overweight. People tend to assume that the former is the result of the latter, and I’ve gotten a lot of silent stinkeyes while using a motorized cart to navigate large stores. They may not say anything, but the judgment is still there.

                2. Observer*

                  Ok, I’m overweight, although I do fit into one seat. But I know perfectly well that some people see me as a “fat cow”, or worse. I’m also recognizably Jewish and my husband even more so. Trust me, we’ve heard plenty of antisemitic comments, and we’re perfectly well aware of the fact that some people think we are traitors waiting for a chance to betray the country / money grubbing thieves / communists / the financiers of the 1% / pick your own slur.

                  In other words, I AM thinking about it from the marginalized person’s point of view.

                  And I still say, can we please drop the thought police? There are too many problems with it, and it generally doesn’t do much for anyone.

                3. YogiJosephina*

                  Great, that’s you. I’m glad it doesn’t bother you personally. But you don’t get to speak for the entire overweight/marginalized population, no more than I get to speak for the entire queer/bisexual population when I say knowing that people think I’m some sort of deviant immortal sinner doesn’t really get under my skin, either. That doesn’t render the concerns or feelings of those who ARE hurt invalid.

                  Not all thoughts become actions, but all actions come from thoughts. Asking people to really consider what they’re thinking and where it’s coming from is NOT the “thought police.”

                  I’m really tired of simply asking people to be aware of what they’ve been conditioned to believe being skewed as some sort of bad thing. It’s not.

            2. Wrong*

              “That said, it is still VERY much someone’s responsibility to overcome them when it is revealed that they believe something problematic.”

              Ehh… it really depends. Because some people have some very, shall we say, extensive ideas of what’s “problematic.” As a huge swath of Tumblr demonstrates. Not everything that someone finds personally hurtful is problematic.

        2. Just Saying*

          The thing is though…..people who are very obese just tend to scream ‘DON’T FAT SHAME ME!!!’ without considering how much their weight problem actually is a problem to others. If your weight problem means OTHER people are unable to properly sit in their seat on the bus….you’re the problem, not them.

          1. Observer*

            And exactly what do you expect the fat person to do? Stop using public transportation? Not ever venture out of the house?

      3. Koko*

        These are not the same situations. When the “desired change” is to get someone to adopt a more civil and socially responsible attitude, that’s a fairly low bar for a decent person to accomplish and something that society has an interest in expecting from its members. When the “desired change” is significant weight loss, that’s a pretty high bar that might be incredibly challenging or impossible for a decent person to accomplish, and something that society has no compelling interest in expecting them to prioritize.

        1. Hotstreak*

          As someone who has both lost a significant amount of weight and changed unsavory personal beliefs, I disagree with your assessment of their difficulties. For me, weight loss was easier because there was immediate positive feedback in the way I felt, people looking at me, etc. Changing the personal beliefs resulted in immediate negative feedback, since I now disagreed with most of my social group, & only had positive feedback once I integrated with entirely new groups of friends.

          Just something to think about.

          1. fposte*

            That’s a really interesting point. It reminds me of the John Cheese articles on Cracked–he talks about growing up racist in a racist family, for instance, and how complicated it was to change his worldview.

          2. Laurel Gray*

            Hotstreak, this comment was so interesting I had to copy and paste and send it to someone. The person I sent it strongly disagrees with the common thought that it is easy to change how you feel vs someone changing their size. I think your personal example is exactly what they are talking about. As someone who also lost weight and kept it off for several years now I too believe it came with much more ease than the mental, emotional and personal belief changes I made.

          3. Ops Analyst*

            I think you make an interesting point, but I don’t think we need to compare how difficult/easy it is to lose weight to how difficult/easy it is to change ones personal beliefs. Neither are inherently easy and they will be more or less difficult for different people, regardless of positive or negative feedback.

            The point here is that making comments that hope to end intolerance affects society as a whole, particularly for the people whose lives are made significantly more difficult for it. While making comments that hope to “end fat people” (so to speak) only hurts fat people and continues to perpetuate intolerance.

            Which is why we shouldn’t accuse Fat Person of exhibiting shaming behavior him/herself. (Would we call that intolerance-shaming, as if shaming intolerant people is a problem?) How do we end intolerance if we continue to call it “different thoughts and opinions”?

            1. Ops Analyst*

              To clarify, I don’t think we should shame anyone. Intolerance is worthy of discussion. Shaming people for it is not helpful and can be as harmful as any kind of shaming. It sounded like I meant the opposite so I wanted to clear that up.

          4. Mookie*

            The difference being, expressing prejudiced views makes someone an unsavoury and less employable person. In polite society, we have an obligation to not vent our spleen at one another, irrespective of how close-minded and bigoted we think. Being overweight is not a burden to anyone else. No one is obligated to lose weight.

            1. Wrong*

              THANK YOU, Mookie.

              The size and shape of my body is not up for public commentary or discussion. End of story.

          5. Wrong*

            So because weight loss was easy for you, it should be easy for everyone? That’d be a relevation to all the people who can’t lose weight and/or can’t keep it off.

        2. Observer*

          @Koko, it’s actually extremely hard to get people to change their attitudes and beliefs. And, it’s often harder to get “decent” people to change, because that means admitting that they have been holding a bad or even abhorrent attitude prior. That is actually a VERY high bar, and one that generally has little immediate payback. At least losing weight is something that most overweight people know is good for them.

    6. frequentflyer*

      FYI – a fat person can be fat AND loud AND smelly, just like a skinny person can be loud AND smelly too. Would everyone be less offended if OP had complained about the passenger being smelly (and left out the part about the weight)?

      I just really feel bad for OP because somehow people with BO always gravitate towards me in public transport and I can totally understand how terrible it must have felt.

  7. Not me*

    There’s actually a shop I don’t go to anymore because I overheard an employee talking about an overweight customer after she left because she was wearing a tight dress. Like, you know, the ones the store sells. I didn’t record the thing and then show it to the employees’ manager, of course, but it does make an impression.

    Anyway, anyone want popcorn?

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Sitting next to someone and texting is the same thing though – if the person behind could see her, why not the woman in the seat next to her?

    1. Kasia*

      This is completely different though. The employee made a remark about a customer AT WORK. Not in a private conversation via text on a bus with no corporate logos on.

      Not that making comments about people’s appearance is ever OK, but making a comment about a customer while you are being paid to work is (in my opinion) way worse

      1. Not me*

        Sorry, I wasn’t clear. My point is that it’s understandable for a customer to be bothered by this. Nothing more than that.

        1. Kasia*

          Of course, and you should be bothered by it. And if an employee is making rude comments about a customer while at work, then I definitely think they should be fired.

        2. sunny-dee*

          No, the customer is a busybody. It’s one thing to be upset by comments that you overheard because you can overhear something without intending to. It’s another to contort yourself to be able to read someone’s phone and then clutch your pearls about what you see.

          1. Liane*

            Yes. While I agree that the OP isn’t innocent here by a long shot, Complainer* is at least as nasty, as well as a Nosy Busybody. I imagine Complainer would have found a reason to be offended no matter what the OP had texted to her SO.
            Like, “Sunday plan is church service then G-rated movie! I so can’t wait!”

            *and manager, for that matter

          2. Tara*

            It is very easy to read someone else’s phone screen. I can’t count the amount of dirty text messages I’ve seen when someone’s phone is turned up to 100% brightness and they’re waving it around directly in front of me. My eyes move faster than my brain.

        3. TL -*

          Yes, but almost everyone is guilty of unkind thoughts after a long day, especially if you’re having an unpleasant experience on public transit, and everyone deserves to vent in private – which is exactly what this woman was doing. (It was unkind, and especially coupled with the remarks about the manager, it doesn’t reflect well on her. But it was also appropriately expressed to someone who could understand her venting and would not be affected by the comments.)

          And that’s really different than talking about your customers while on the clock, representing your company. If I saw this kind of comment, I would raise an eyebrow but also assume that she was maybe having a bad day and go about my life.

      2. Krystal*

        So I wouldn’t go to a store where one of the employees had a habit of making gross comments about other women’s bodies. It’s crass at best. I am not a perfect size 2, and if I saw someone make a comment like that, I would assume she hated all people who weren’t as small as she was, and would make it a point not to go there.

        There’s a fitness instructor at my gym who was overheard making fatphobic comments to a few friends. We’ve been lobbying to get her fired and boycotting her classes. (It’s a freaking YMCA, and she felt the need to say how “gross” and “disgusting” fat women are in the freaking parking lot.) Sure, she wasn’t on the clock, but I’m not about to just be okay with her.

        1. Christy*

          Oh I have feelings about fitness instructors being fatphobic. So many feelings. If I encounter an instructor like that I avoid them forever, even if they’re subbing my favorite class.

          1. Ad Astra*

            Sometimes I’ll even avoid a fitness instructor who makes too many comments like “Work off that cheeseburger! Burn those calories!” I wouldn’t even consider those comments to be fatphobic, but even just the insistence that I’m working out so I can be skinny really gets under my skin. (I’m sure plenty of people in the class are working out so they can be skinny, and they might find those comments motivating, but I don’t.)

            1. Anonathon*

              Yes, me too! I’m a distance runner and, for real, strangers have said similar things to me on the street. (Um, I’m not running because I ate a big lunch. I’m running because it’s fun and fulfilling, plus I have a race next week, leave me alone.) Anyhoo, agreement.

              1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

                I once had a coworker look down at my lunch and say, “it’s a good thing you ran today.”

                I let it go because it wasn’t worth trying to explain that 5 years into ED recovery I finally understand I don’t have to earn my food.

            2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

              Yup, I quit my spin studio after having to hear comments from the instructo like “earn your breakfast” and “push harder to fix yesterday’s mistakes.”

              Super unmotivating :(

          2. Fact & Fiction*

            I am actually a fat fitness instructor and it has taken me out of my comfort level to lead classes at the size I am currently when I do personally want to be smaller, not because I judge those who are happy at my size or bigger but because I know people like the instructor you mentioned DO. I have been so exceedingly pleased with how the gym I sub for hired me without batting an eyelash, has other fat instructors, and how awesome the members who come to the classes have been. I make sure to focus on working off stress comments and getting stronger/more fit rather the burning calories. I also stress that people can be fit at any size.

    2. Sarah in DC*

      It sounds like the employee was still in the store and still working when they said that though, unless I’m misunderstanding you. To me that is a different scenario and I think you would have been justified in reporting it if you had chosen to, because they were making rude comments about a customer, on company time within earshot of other customers. For me the big issue here is this was private comment about a member of the general public not at work or while on the clock, and just happened to be snooped on by a customer and reported. Would the customer have been justified in not shopping there because she didn’t like what she saw? Sure. Its reporting it to management via pictures of the LW’s phone that is crossing the line.

    3. Kelly*

      That’s part of the reason that I rarely worked in women’s clothing when I worked department store retail. I don’t have much of a filter when someone is clearly wearing clothing that doesn’t flatter their body or shape. I’m the first to admit that I’ve struggled with my weight and finding clothes that are flattering on my body. I will say that one of most awkward shifts was when teenage girls, some of whom were on the chubbier side to put it politely, came into buy prom dresses without some of their mothers present. It was sobering to realize that what was racy a dozen years ago when I was in high school were some of the more demure looks with straps and no cut outs. It took a lot of self control to not ask some of these girls “would you been seen in that in front of your grandparents” because of both how the dresses didn’t fit them and how much skin they were showing. Believe me, some of them had no business wearing a strapless dress unless they wanted to have a wardrobe malfunction on the dance floor.

  8. lulu*

    Completely agree with Alison. This was a private message and you shouldn’t have to suffer consequences for it. But you also need to be careful when using insults, especially insults that can apply to a whole group of people, in public. Some people will be offended, and might bring it up to you directly, or indirectly like this woman did. Things can escalate. You must not have been very discreet if she had time to take a picture of it. It would be the same if you were having a private conversation on a bus and someone overheard you saying something insulting towards, let’s say, a homeless person, or a handicapped person, or an immigrant. You might get in trouble. So be more discreet, or, you know, don’t use those insults, and be kinder.

    1. Squirrel*

      You must not have been very discreet if she had time to take a picture of it.

      I’m not sure this part actually matters. Maybe if the OP was shoving their phone in someone’s face and they took a picture of it then, I can see your comment making sense. But according to the post, the OP says that the pictures were obviously taken over her shoulder without her knowledge. Should she have hunched over her phone and looked around every few seconds to make sure no one was spying on her? She thought she was having a private texting conversation with someone on her phone. Having your phone out doesn’t make it acceptable for someone to take photos of your private conversations.

      1. lulu*

        I agree with you that it doesn’t really matter, because the person who took the photo was in the wrong. I just meant that I was insulting someone sitting next to me on my phone, I would be very paranoid that that person would see it, or someone else, and might confront me about it. Never thought I would lose my job over it though.

      2. AW*

        Having your phone out doesn’t make it acceptable for someone to take photos of your private conversations.

        This. It would be different if it was the woman the OP was talking about who’d seen it (you ought to make sure the person you’re insulting can’t see that you’re doing it) but I don’t think the OP is obligated to hide her phone from the people sitting in the higher up bus seats in the back:

        the person who must have been sitting behind me (slightly elevated due to the bus design)

        I’ve been on buses like that; you’re right above the people in front of you.

        1. AW*

          To be clear, when I say “It would be different” I mean I’d agree the OP should have been more discreet, not that I think they should be fired.

        2. stellanor*

          I’ve been on buses like that and passed my time by reading the person in front of me’s newspaper over their shoulder. You’re at basically the best angle in the world to see what they’re looking at, up there over the wheel well.

          1. Tanith*

            Seriously. I also sometimes read people’s newspapers…and sometimes their texts if they are furiously texting. I would never take a photo of someone’s texts though.

      3. Bostonian*

        If someone behind OP was able to read her texts and photograph them, what about the woman sitting next to her? It doesn’t have any relevance to what happened, but it made me question OP’s judgment a little bit.

        I take crowded buses and trains all the time, and I generally assume that others can see my phone screen unless I’ve checked around me or purposely positioned myself to hide my screen. I’ve caught myself reading other people’s texts and watching their games of candy crush and whatever without really meaning to. I’d never act on what I saw, and I think both the snoop and OP’s employer are way out of line, but your phone isn’t quite private when you’re in a crowded public place.

        1. TL -*

          But it’s fairly easy to keep your phone from the person beside you; you just turn it towards you. Quite a different story for the person behind you (and a: not somewhere you’re likely to check and b: not someone you’re likely to be noticing.)

    2. afiendishthingy*

      I don’t think it’s the same as someone overhearing a private conversation on a bus. It’s a lot easier to overhear an offensive comment when you’re minding your own business than it is to accidentally read an offensive text over someone’s shoulder.

      1. Alias D*

        Not for me it isn’t. I cannot distinguish one voice in the babble from another, but I automatically read any textual info my eyes fall on.

  9. voyager1*

    I have to disagree with Allison here a little bit.

    The only person(s) in the wrong was the shoulder surfing spy and the employer. You OP have the right of privacy of your device.

    I don’t understand why when someone feels the need to go on some social justice binge that getting someone fired seems to be what to do. The OP is POed and out of a job, but hey shoulder surfing spy can go to bed with a clean frame of mind because by golly she showed that fat shammer. And I doubt anything positive will come out of this for the OP… just not a growth experience

    I wonder how shoulder surfing spy would feel if she got fired because someone had to act out their micro-aggressions to the extreme.

    Stories like this is why I am not on any social media and why I don’t wear corporate logged shirts. Too many people who can’t control their micro-aggressions who think being alive and in public should require a trigger warning.

    1. afiendishthingy*

      I’m not sure we have the same definition of microaggressions. By my definition OP’s comments about overweight people are the only microaggressions in this story. The picture-taker and the employer were most definitely in the wrong, but they weren’t committing microaggressions.

    2. fposte*

      From a pragmatic standpoint, I’m going to disagree on the right of privacy thing on the device.

      You don’t have that. None of us has that. We don’t have it when we’re talking or when we’re typing. If you’re in the middle of people, the communications you create are observable, and you have no right to be unobserved. Don’t communicate sensitive material in a public place–just don’t.

      Yes, I still think it was a jerk move to send the picture to the OP’s employer. But I also think it’s asking for trouble to communicate something in public that you would be uncomfortable being public.

      1. voyager1*

        HI fposte,

        I wrote this in another response. Since you don’t think there is a right to privacy, if I am sitting next to you in public, do you mind if I read over your shoulders at your texts or emails on your phone or similar

        1. My Fake Name is Laura*

          You don’t have a right to privacy when you’re in a public place. At least in the US anyway. It has to do with whether, legally, one can claim to have a “reasonable expectation” of privacy – and public transportation most likely doesn’t meet that standard.

          1. jmkenrick*

            Exactly. It’s entirely possible to occasionally overhear and catch glimpses of personal communication even if there’s no intent.

        2. fposte*

          You’re confusing two things there–right and desire.

          I don’t want you to read everything I type when you sit next to me. I don’t want you to make fun of my food. I don’t want you to play basketball next door to me when I’m trying to take a nap on the weekend.

          But I have no *right* to any of those. That doesn’t mean you can do them without being rude, but often the reason we declare some things to be rude is that it’s a way of defining boundaries when there is no issue of “right” to stand on. I think it’s rude to shoulder-surf and rude to make fun of my food. (It’s not actually rude to play basketball on a Saturday afternoon, though.) But that doesn’t mean I have a right for you not to do it.

          1. voyager1*

            The reason you don’t want me to read your messages is because they are not intended for me, and therefore private. ;)

            I do think that the LW
            might have a case against the picture taker. The picture taker showed intent to harm the reputation of the LW. Wrongs in the USA are what keep lawyers busy ;) Seriously it would be worth talking to an attorney for her. It might all hinge on what the picture taker wrote to the employer, which we don’t know. Also taking a picture of the phone screen might if argued well be seen as an “account take over” and maybe identity theft. Yeah that is a stretch but might make for an interesting case.

            The laws need to catch up with the technology.

            1. fposte*

              But the intention doesn’t confer a right–that’s my point. You’re talking about them as if they were the same thing.

  10. Kasia*

    This is so obnoxious. No one can be expected to use their work personality at all times. We are allowed to be human, we don’t constantly have to be polite to everyone, every second of the day. The person who read the text message was so clearly in the wrong. You can’t snoop on someone and then be upset by what you saw. That’s why it’s a private conversation. Get a life.

    Agreed that the OPs phrasing and word choice in this letter (and probably general attitude towards people in life) could be better but I don’t think that’s the worst thing I see in this letter.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      “You can’t snoop on someone and then be upset by what you saw. That’s why it’s a private conversation. Get a life.”

      Just want to echo that this applies in various contexts – personal, professional, social, romantic, etc…

  11. Ann O'Nemity*

    I’m wondering how the LW is supposed to explain the firing and lack of references in their job search.

    I’m also wondering if something about the LW’s reaction or even her previous on-the-job behavior contributed to the firing and reference refusal. It seems like a stretch that a company would terminate someone and refuse to give them references for the situation that the LW described.

    1. Ghost_Hunter*

      Here is some advice for your job search.

      At your next interview, I would be very calm and concise when explaining why I was fired. Practice in front of a mirror if you have to in order to make sure that you can be calm.

      “I was fired from my previous position because a customer, who happened to be riding the public transit with me, took photographs of some politically charged text messages I was sending to my boyfriend at the time. Although they were not related to work, and I was not in uniform, the customer remembered me from servicing her earlier and shared them with my boss who then fired me.”

      1. brightstar*

        I’m not sure that wording would work as “politically charged” can be taken to mean transphobic, homophobic, or a variety of other -ics and -isms.

        1. Natalie*

          It also feels a bit like minimizing. The OP wasn’t fired because the texts were political, she was fired because they were mean.

        2. Kelly L.*

          Yeah, I’d maybe roll with “juvenile” instead–could cover rude insults as well as, like, gross toilet humor or something.

        3. Koko*

          Yeah, I’d stick with something more like, “took photographs of some text messages I was sending to my boyfriend at the time venting my frustration with another passenger on the bus I was riding.” The interviewer might even charitably assume she was venting about a legitimate complaint, like the passenger was making a loud scene or something, instead of the mean-spirited fat-shaming she was really doing.

      1. Sunshine*

        So the mean girl got mean-girled?

        Look, I don’t agree with the firing at all, but I’m certainly having trouble drumming up sympathy for the OP. I’ve definitely texted and even said things that I’d be mortified if they became public, but I’d be embarrassed and apologetic – I don’t get that vibe at all from the OP. Especially with the closing comments about the manager.

        1. Marian the Librarian*

          > I’ve definitely texted and even said things that I’d be mortified if they became public, but I’d be embarrassed and apologetic

          Yes!!! I sometimes say things to my husband about people in anger/frustration that I later regret, and if those came to light I would also be mortified. If I said something offensive about someone and that later came to light to a person that shared those qualities, I would be apologetic and VERY embarrassed, not dismissive and angry because the person who found out shared the same qualities.

      2. AnonyManager*

        I kinda thought that might be possible. The overweight manager now doesn’t want to work with the “skinny b*tch” who picks on “fat” people (or something along those lines).

        While I would definitely have less respect for someone who referred to anyone as a “fat cow” it is not grounds for termination especially in the context of this situation.

        1. voyager1*

          I like Koko’s response for interview questions.

          If it were me I would be tempted to say “sexting” with my partner. If someone said that to me, I would totally laugh it off in an interview.

    2. Ad Astra*

      I don’t love the refusal to give a reference, but it might actually be for the best. If someone calls to check a reference and asks why the OP left her job there, it will be difficult for that reference to answer honestly without making the OP look bad.

      Would it be possible for OP to just list her company’s HR department as a reference so they can confirm dates of employment?

    3. I'm Not Phyllis*

      I’m wondering this as well. I’m not sure how old OP is, but maybe they have some other work history to go from? This would be an employment gap for sure, but I’m hoping they would at least have a few other references from past employers – or from whoever she used to get that job in particular.

    4. Pete*

      If the OP wants validation for staking the moral high ground she’s got it. Who cares, though? How will you get your next job?

      “I was fired for being rude in public. A customer who was there recognized me and reported it to my employer.”

      It can’t said be angrily. It can’t be defensive. OP must own that statement or something similar. She has to be comfortable saying what happened, in a factual manner. Don’t offer qualifiers that might take some blame off of you. The follow-up questions will allow you to say more factual statements.

      “I was exchanging text messages with my partner while on the bus home. The customer was behind me, and she took a picture of my screen.”

      Offer no opinion about the ethics involved. Give the facts, and allow the interviewer to draw conclusions. I don’t think OP ever needs to say what she wrote or to whom she was rude.

      “I was writing things I would have never said out loud. I’m embarrassed they were revealed to anyone. I’ve learned anything written in public, just like anything said in public, can be ‘overheard.’ I’ve also learned to be a little kinder to others.”

      It may take some time for the OP to get this place, but that’s when she’ll get some responses. The worst conclusion is that interviewer thinks the employer was just looking for a reason to get rid of OP.

      1. INFJ*

        I don’t think I agree with “being rude in public.” She was being rude in private. She wasn’t making a scene.

        1. Pete*

          It was spotted in public. Thus, it was public. I think arguing her privacy was invaded would make the OP appear to be defensive, at best. I believe it would be better to allow the interviewers to draw their own conclusion whether she had the right to some level of privacy.

          1. penelope pitstop*

            Possibly because I am an INTP, I agree with INFJ. :)
            If I were to hear ‘public rudeness,’ as a hiring manager my mind would go to something really obnoxious and public-platform-ish – something that drew an audiences’s negative attention – not one person. Not saying it’s right, but – especially for a job for which I have lots of choices – I’d just assume s/he’s not worth the risk and move on. At best, I don’t think ‘public rudeness’ captures the nuance of the behavior and at worst, it suggests something else entirely because I associate that with other types of situations.

            I think your solve works nicely Pete, if starting in a different place. I’d reco the OP start here:

            “I was fired for a text message that I sent to my partner that was captured by a store customer who, unbenownst to me, was sitting behind me on the bus and took a photo of my screen.”

            That’s factual and it invites a conversation (or more foll0w-up questions) that might not happen with the ‘I was fired for public rudeness’ framing.

            1. Pete*

              Your sentence is completely accurate, Penelope, but I believe it’s too long. That sentence works in the written form because one can go back and re-read it. There will follow-up questions anyway. I would choose to give short statements which will elicit expected questions, e.g. “How were you rude in public?” or “How did someone see your text messages?” Short responses then give the interviewer the chance to understand each bit of info slowly and easily.

              I would choose to guide the interviewer slowly down this path. It’s not the choice for everyone, of course.

  12. Boo*

    Agree with Alison totally. The store was absolutely out of line in firing you – and to be honest I’m becoming increasingly troubled by the way employers seem to be taking over their employees private lives, it’s bad enough that we have to expect them to look us up on social media without being careful to shield our phones in public as well – BUT I do suspect that perhaps the attitude Alison mentioned showing in your letter has been showing at work as well and they may have been looking for an excuse to get rid of you.

    I am guessing from the job and your style/tone of writing that you are probably very young and still getting used to the working world. I like UKAnon’s suggested response to future employers (remember keep it calm and factual, don’t go into any details or slag anyone off) and I suggest that you simply chalk this up to experience and take on board the lessons Alison has mentioned. Don’t become hung up and bitter on this experience, try to be super professional at work in future, and try to be a little kinder. None of us know what battles other people are fighting every day.

    1. Ghost_Hunter*

      Yes. Employers are really butting into our personal lives. It’s especially egregious in the U.S., where a political post on facebook, or a newspaper photo of your marching in a gay pride parade are suddenly “damaging to the company” and grounds for dismissal. Can we start the revolution already?

      1. Schnauz*

        This isn’t total protection, but this is why every manager in my workplace is blocked on my facebook. One of coworkers could still show them a post or take a screenshot to show my employer, but I don’t “friend” my managers. If they’re going to object to something I say on my private facebook (I don’t fill out many personal details, definitely not my company’s name), then I want them to work a little for it. Or, at least, feel like they’ve listened to someone else “tattle” on me. I don’t mention clients or my company, so anything they object to would be personal/political in nature.

  13. TootsNYC*

    My takeaway?

    Next time, stand up and move away from the person who is squishing you in your seat and smelling bad.

    1. Amy*

      Honestly, assuming she was in the inside seat, making the other person get up just so you can pointedly move to another seat or stand in the aisle when you’re nowhere near your stop is likely to hurt and offend them more than a private text message that they (hopefully!) didn’t see.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        erm so what, if it hurts someones feelings, the OP should be able to be comfortable for the journey they are making. Setting aside the weight issue, getting on a bus whilst you stink of BO is just rude and inconsiderate to everyone else that is around you in a confined space.

        1. LBK*

          I think the point was more that on the scale of trying to not be rude to the person, getting up and moving isn’t necessarily any less rude than making private comments about them.

          1. Apollo Warbucks*

            Sure don’t go out of your way to be rude and if you move don’t make a fuss about it, but there’s no reason to sit in an uncomfortable situation just to be polite to someone.

          2. Amy*

            Yes, this is what I meant. I interpreted the comment as meaning “next time, instead of complaining and offending people, just get up and move” and I wanted to point out that this action could also offend people, and more directly. I am not saying she doesn’t have a right to get up and move if she wants to, of course.

            1. TootsNYC*

              You can move in a way that’s not so obviously rejecting. People do it on the subway all the time.

              You fake like your stop is coming up, or you move quietly to the far back (or front) of the bus. Don’t stand up suddenly, don’t make faces, don’t give them a pointed look. Just pretend there’s somewhere else you are wanting to go to (and not somewhere you are running away from).
              You can flash a vague smile at the person you’re getting out from around.

              And my main point is, “Make yourself comfortable, so you don’t have to suffer.” Why sit there w/ someone squishing you and stinking at you–standing would be far preferrable, and hey–maybe a seat in the other end of the bus will open up.

              1. DMented Kitty*

                I agree. You can move in a civil manner. I’ve been in various modes of public transportation with various unsavory situations and I didn’t have a problem moving without being rude.

        2. other side*

          I’m not disagreeing, it’s a nice thought that stinky people would be considerate.

          but if I shower daily and wear deoderent and I get a little sweaty and stinky unexpectedly I should just teleport home? Sometimes you don’t have a choice OR you don’t realize you stink. A man used to sit beside me on the train every single night reeking of BO so bad it would make me gag! He clearly had no idea how bad he smelled.

          1. Allison*

            I frequently take the subway home from dance classes, sometimes social dances as well, and especially in the summer where the air conditioning in the studio is inadequate or non-existent, I know I’m sweaty and probably smelly. I shower before I leave my apartment, I wear deodorant, I’m even getting in the habit of taking an extra shirt and changing when needed/possible, but I’m still not exactly a fresh flower when I get on the train to go home and I can only hope that my smell isn’t too bad. Stink happens.

        3. mel*

          Smelling bad after a long day at work really sucks. This person probably wanted nothing more than to take a shower and get clean, but guess what? She has to get home first in order to do that. Think sitting on a bus with a smelly person feels bad? Try being that person.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Well but there’s a difference between long day at work or working out odor and haven’t washed in a week odor

              1. frequentflyer*

                you may be surprised but the former can smell just as bad, especially for people who do physical labour-intensive jobs T_T

            1. TootsNYC*

              My thought as well. This wasn’t a single day’s smell, probably (unless there’s something medical going on).
              The people in front of me were actually holding their noses and I honestly was holding down trying not to dry retch.

        4. Ihmmy*

          not everyone has easy access to a shower, but a lot of people need to travel to access resources. The city I’m in, most of the public transit is used by low income/no income, and students. At least once a week someone is on the bus who smells either of BO or of too much cologne/scent. It’s just a thing you deal with when it comes to public transit.

        5. TheLazyB (UK)*

          There was an older guy who got my bus every so often who really, really smelled dreadfully of BO. I couldn’t sit near him on the bus. But it made me sad, because I can’t imagine he would deliberately do it, so I am pretty sure that he literally doesn’t have anyone to say ‘seriously get clean and wash your clothes’/help him do that.

          Really harsh to call that rude and inconsiderate IMO.

          1. Apollo Warbucks*

            Getting in to a confind space where you’re in close proximate to a large number of other people without washing or using some deodorant, and then sitting so close to someone else you’re squashing them seems pretty inconsiderate and rude to me.

            1. Aunt Vixen*

              The smelliest people I’ve ever encountered have been those who have not had regular access to personal care products or even running water. I realize we know nothing about the OP’s seatmate on the bus except her size and odor, so please don’t come back with “but there’s no evidence in the letter that”–I know. But it sounds to me like you’re annoyed at the OP’s seatmate for daring, similar to what someone said elsewhere in the thread, to be both fat and poor in a public place.

              Yes, of course there are other possibilities. The smelly seatmate could be ill or allergic to antiperspirant or any number of things. But the odds that she herself was comfortable in the situation under discussion are vanishingly slim.* Therefore it seems logical that she would change her circumstances if she could. Therefore it seems especially harsh to judge her as being rude for not doing a thing that may well be impossible.

              *Ha, I see what I did there. Not intended, but I’m leaving it in.

              1. Apollo Warbucks*

                I’m not bother by the OPs seat mate being fat and [possibly] poor in a public place. I am however bother by the OPs seat mate thinking it’s OK to invade someone else’s personal space.

              2. I'm a Little Teapot*

                Actually, the smelliest person I’ve ever met was a college student living in a dorm with a shower. He apparently never used it, though, because he stank up a whole floor in whatever building he was in. Not all smelly people are smelly because they can’t help it.

                Someone mentioned elsewhere on this post that she sometimes has to ride the bus with a migraine, which is worsened by foul smells. As another public transit rider (and sometimes public-facing employee) with chronic nausea off and on, I have a definite problem with people who stink. No one wants to be around nauseating odors.

                1. Observer*

                  Sure, not all people stink because they can’t help it. But the VAST majority fall into that category.

                  And, as someone who has had to travel on NYC mass transit during rush hour (and still sometimes does) I’m very well aware of what it’s like to deal with one (or many more) in the crush with either bad BO or too much perfume of one sort or another. The reality is that with BO, you just need to figure out some way to deal. The person with BO almost certainly doesn’t have any more options than you do, and it’s just not reasonable to expect people to be able to avoid public transportation because they smell.

            2. Blurgle*

              Because homeless people, disabled people, the poor living in shared accommodations, etc. never take the bus?

                1. Wrong*

                  The implication is that they can’t wash properly.

                  Personally I find this line of argument a little… much. Especially since many disabled people have sensory disorders that make other people’s body odor literally intolerable. I think I am okay with “stink-shaming” tbph.

            3. Apollo Warbucks*

              You both make a good point, I wasn’t considering the person who was sitting next to the OP might be homeless, I had thought it was someone just finishing work or something like that, I’m not sure where I got that from other than the bus being busy I’d assumed most people on there would be commuting and the description of the smell as BO rather than

              Maybe I just take public transport to often and see to much anti social behaviour but I get annoyed with people being inconsiderate.

        6. Observer*

          getting on a bus whilst you stink of BO is just rude and inconsiderate to everyone else that is around you in a confined space.

          So, what is that person supposed to do? Not all people who suffer from BO are slobs with no hygiene. Some people have medical issues. A LOT of people work in situations where they sweat a lot and they don’t have the option of taking a shower before they head home. If public transportation is their only practical option, are they supposed to not take a job?

      2. Adam*

        Isn’t that kind of on them though? If you didn’t say anything rude to the overweight/smelly person and politely asked if you could stand up it’s up to said person’s own mind to make those connections and respond to them. And if you are seriously pinned to the wall and looking at potentially having a really long uncomfortable commute I don’t think you need take it rather than possibly upsetting said person.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        It’s not necessary to make a thing of it–as the bus makes stops, people get off, and many people move seats to be closer to the front as their stop approaches, get a better seat, etc. It’s very common and nobody even thinks twice about it. I’ve done it myself on buses when I get trapped in a seat with no legroom. When the one near the wheelchair/pram area opens up, I move so I can unfold my legs (if there’s not a wheelchair user or a parent with a baby already there).

        Al you have to do is get up and if you need to squeeze by, say, “Pardon me” politely. Buses aren’t planes; you’re not generally trapped there for the duration in an assigned seat.

      4. MashaKasha*

        True, they might still be offended, but they can’t very well shoot a video on their phone of the LW standing up and moving to the aisle or another seat, send that to LW’s store manager demanding LW’s head on a platter, and avoid looking crazy in the process.

        I’d have moved too if my personal space was being invaded or if a person next to me smelled so bad I was afraid I might retch.

      5. Katie*

        I think the passenger potentially reading that LW believed her to be a “fat cow” would be more damaging than a stranger switching seats. Heck, if it was me, I’d think, “YAY! Now I don’t have to feel ridiculously self-conscious about invading this person’s seat space.”

  14. Rae*

    I think the assumption of privacy is usually just not what people think it is. Certainly the woman or man who took the photos is doing wrong, but perhaps it wasn’t a stranger but someone who know the OP and the OP didn’t realize.

    I was sitting behind two of the staff from another department randomly at a sports game. They didn’t recognized me, but they were wearing teeshirts recently given to staff. During the course of the game, even with the loudness of it, I overheard many distasteful comments about management as well as many things they were doing that were completely wrong. They also snickered many racial slurs for the players-everyone from the Irish to the African American. When I was in the office I told my supervisor of the incident who let other supervisors know. One of the women in question left that day, and the other left shortly after. I am not privvy to their leaving, but I’m guessing that someone verified what I’d said.

    I don’t see this as tattling, rather as my duty to protect my company’s good name. Retail might not have a “good name” but employees not only deal with clients but may also deal with clothing items or food, which would lead me to believe that having negative opinions on weight would deeply affect the quality of work.

    I am fortunate I work for a company in which I was taken seriously. I never would of intentionally spied or taken pictures. I’m not glad they quit/or were fired, but what they were doing was wrong. They not only insulted management but they were ill behaved while in clothing which let people know that they worked for our company. I don’t want to be associated with people who are racist…and I think it’s just a liability waiting to happen for those who speak to clients every day.

    –To the OP—
    I’m going to assume this was not a school bus. You are free to get up and move at each stop. You can solve your own problems. You are not a “size 2 girl” you are a woman.

    1. NickelandDime*

      I think you did the right thing. They brought it on themselves with their unprofessional behavior in branded gear no less. I’m pretty sure you weren’t the only ones that heard them!

    2. Buttonhole*

      What you experienced is different. And I think you did the right things as your ex-colleagues were wearing branded clothes. However, I don’t think the OP should have been fired. She should take this further. Yes, sure she could and should have moved…and the person who invaded her privacy shouldn’t have done that. Which is worse?

      1. afiendishthingy*

        By “taking this further” do you mean OP should fight the termination? I can’t see how this could turn out well for her. She wasn’t fired illegally. It wasn’t FAIR, but there’s no way fighting for her (genuine) right to refer to human beings as “fat cows” in text messages is going to get her her job back or set her up to get another job. I’d say her best option is to try to negotiate a decent reference from the company if they can vouch for her on-the-job performance.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Her termination wasn’t illegal in that it wasn’t for illegal reasons as we know them BUT there’s a reason employers are usually careful to take progressive disciplinar steps in At Will employment because you can still possibly have been wrongfully terminated. It’s hard to prove but what exactly is the reason for termination in her file?? ” rude comment seen on employees phone by stranger on bus”?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            “Wrongful termination” doesn’t mean “unfair termination.” It means “fired for an illegal reason, like firing the person for their race, sex, religion, disability, etc.”

            1. voyager1*

              You know, maybe the OP sueing the company for wrongful termination isn’t a bad idea.
              Probably a weak case, sure, but she might get a settlement. It is many times cheaper to settle then risk it going to court.

              Sleezy yes, but I see no downside here.

              1. fposte*

                The term is really confusing, unfortunately, but there is no wrongful termination here, because it doesn’t mean what it sounds like. Firing somebody you claim stole money when they didn’t, for instance, isn’t a wrongful termination. Unless the OP could argue that this was actually based on illegally discriminatory practice, it’s not a wrongful termination. The OP would have to have been fired for being female. Or for being white/black/brown. Or for her religion.

              2. Turanga Leela*

                fposte is right. OP, if you’re reading this, don’t file a frivolous lawsuit. You’ll be opening yourself up to intrusive depositions and discovery requests, you’ll have to deal with a sleazy lawyer (a good one won’t take this case), and occasionally plaintiffs who file frivolous suits have to pay the defendants’ attorneys’ fees. And you won’t feel good about yourself.

                This has been my PSA of the day.

              3. Observer*

                Sleezy yes, but I see no downside here

                you see no downside in being sleazy?

                In any case, there is actually a lot of potential downside. There is no case here, so any lawyer is going to charge by the hour – and that can add up quite quickly. Also, if this does ever go to court, the fact that she sued a former employer will almost certainly work against her when trying to find a new job. This is true – and unfair – even when the suit has merit. In a case like this, where there is no case, that’s really going to be a black mark.

        2. Buttonhole*

          All I meant is that she should try to find out what she can do legally, I don’t know where she lives so and her rights….however, you are quite right. She probably won’t have a chance at all. I know what is is like, though. I too was fired. It was also unfair, but legal. A lot of people told me that I should see a lawyer/solicitor. It was the first thing I did, only to be told that I cannot sue for unfair dismissal as I have not been there for longer than two years and I need evidence of discrimination. It still hurts.

    3. UKAnon*

      The OP was quite clear, though, that they weren’t wearing or doing anything which associated them with the company – they were just a private person on a bus sending a text (not talking out loud). Would you be happy to have your employer read and ok all of your texts before you sent them? That’s essentially what OP’s company has wanted to be able to do (in the end result)

      1. Rae*

        Obviously she was doing enough to be recognized as an employee–so either branded clothing or some other identifiable way that it got back to her. If you are in public–on the phone or speaking–you shouldn’t assume privacy, period.

        1. UKAnon*

          “saying they recognized me having served them in the store yesterday”

          So just because the OP works in a visible job she has to police her texts to her partner? The only identifiable things seems to be that she’s got the same hair, eye clothes etc as she does in uniform. Also, although she was physically in public, she was texting – i.e. not doing anything to draw anyone’s attention to what she was saying. This person had to go out of their way to snoop.

        2. LBK*

          So, uh, having a face? I recognize people from stores I go into a lot even if they’re in completely different clothes just because I know what they look like, as I would with any other person I see often. This seems like a bit of a ridiculous standard; is she supposed to wear a bag over her head to ensure she’s dissociated from her employer?

          1. Charby*

            It could be a new business opportunity; stylish disguises for retail employees to use in public, that way no one who sees them at work can identify them later if they run into them after hours. She could also invest in gloves and mouth guards too, to make sure that no one can find her fingerprints or DNA on a discarded beer bottle somewhere and forward that information to her employer…

            1. Kairi*

              I like the sound of the stylish disguises, but I think they might be promoted better if you wore them at work instead ;)

        3. Lisa*

          Not necessarily. I’ve worked in retail part-time for almost 10 years, and I’ve been recognized on the street or in coffee shops by people I’ve helped in the store. None of my positions have had uniforms or given me any kind of logo wear. It’s possible that she distinguished herself to the photo-taker by being a particularly exemplary employee or worked with her for an extended period of time, which then made the customer feel like the LW had been disingenuous in their transaction.

          I don’t like what the LW said either or her attitude overall, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have the right to expect privacy on her personal device off the clock.

    4. IndieGir*

      What you are describing is a totally different situation. The people you described were out in public, wearing corporate gear, and talking loudly. They were indeed reflecting badly on the company. The OP was typing on a personal device and not in any work-identifying clothing. It was only coincidence that the person behind her recognized her from the store. The punishment here is way, way out of line with the “crime” of being human in public and on your own time.

      I’d also add, that while I don’t agree at all with the way the OP expressed herself, it sounds like it was a very uncomfortable situation. Having struggled with my weight myself I have sympathy for the fat seat-mate, but that doesn’t make the OP being squished any less painful/annoying. And if her bus was anything like my packed commuter rail, then no, she may not have had the ability to get up and move. I’ve been stuck next to people with really bad BO when I’ve had a migraine and spent the whole trip trying not to vomit. The fact that I also feel sorry for the person with the BO doesn’t make me any less miserable throughout the trip.

      1. Rae*

        How did this person know who the OP worked for then? Either it was a fellow-co-worker or the OP was easily identifiable as a employee of XYZ store. This isn’t a case of viral bad behavior so once can assume that these images got to the person they intended.

        1. IndieGir*

          Re-read the post. The OP said ” they recognized me having served them in the store yesterday.” The OP wasn’t doing anything egregious or that a normal person would think reflected in any way on her employer. As nasty as I find the language she chose to use, she was quietly typing a private message on a private device. As others have pointed out, she may have been on a bus with stepped seats which makes it really easy for someone behind you to read over your shoulder without your knowledge. The person who was way, way out of line was the complainer — first, for spying, and second, for sanctimoniously reporting the OP.

          When people act like jackasses loudly and in public, they have courted their own exposure and I have no problem with them suffering the consequences. But when someone is quietly texting and is spied upon, it is a whole different kettle of fish.

          The alternative you propose is that all people who ever work in any type of retail or public facing job must be perfect in public, at all times, to the most minute degree. That is unreasonable, irrational, and unsustainable. I truly fear for what our world is becoming.

          1. Biff*

            ” all people who ever work in any type of retail or public facing job must be perfect in public, at all times, to the most minute degree. That is unreasonable, irrational, and unsustainable. I truly fear for what our world is becoming.”

            This, exactly. And I’ve noticed a trend to want to out anon accounts too. Which is really shitty.

        2. Window Seat Anon*

          “saying they recognized me having served them in the store yesterday”

          You don’t have to be wearing branded clothing, etc for someone to recognize you. The woman had just seen the OP the day before and remembered her.

        3. LS*

          OP states in the letter that the woman writing in said “they recognized me having served them in the store yesterday”.

          I may recognize my barista, grocer, cashier, etc outside of their place of employment, but–especially in a part-time retail role like that–it’s completely unreasonable to expect that the person represent their company when they’re off-the-clock and not in any other way identifiable as an employee.

          Just think, it sounds utterly ridiculous to approach the Gap fitting room attendant that you spotted on the street while she’s not working/wearing her Gap uniform to ask her if your Gap pants look okay. Just like you wouldn’t expect her to perform work functions outside of work, why would you construe her behavior as being work-related?

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Every time I go to my grocery store, there’s always a handful of employees smoking outside and not nearly as far from the entrance as they should be by law, but I would never dream of ratting them out, even though I absolutely hate cigarette smoke.

            1. Koko*

              Me too. I can’t stand cigarette smoke but at the same time, knowing how heavy-handed and over-the-top discipline can be, I’m not going to risk someone losing their livelihood and ability to support themselves/their family over what amounts to a 10-second unpleasant experience for me as I pass through the cloud. If I felt confident the management would just firmly but casually say to the employees, “Please remember to take your smoke breaks in X location,” and only terminate a willful repeat offender, I would report it to management in the hopes of making a change. Unfortunately I have no confidence that any given store management would be that reasonable, given the current climate.

          2. LadyErin*

            This. I work as a retail garden center manager. Just because I diagnose a customer’s plant issue earlier in the day in my store does not give them the right to ask me questions in the grocery store while I’m trying to get my own groceries and get home and I’m not in my uniform. I’m polite to them but I’m still going to ask them to talk to me the next day at my store. And this has happened!

            1. Marian the Librarian*

              This happens to me all the time when I try to go out to run errands during my lunch break (I live 1.5 hours from where I work, so thankfully I don’t run into it as much as I could). I try to redirect people by, when they ask what I’m doing/how I am, saying “I’m just making a quick stop on my break,” but it definitely doesn’t stop people from trying to ask me librarian questions when I’m in public!

              I’d never want to work in the town where I lived because I work with children and I know it would be frowned upon if anyone who knows me in a professional context saw me at an R rated movie, at a bar, or (God forbid) at a club or something. It’s not reasonable, but it’s real.

    5. Bend & Snap*

      In PR we call this “the walk to the elevator,” meaning nothing you say in public is private.

      A company I used to rep once landed a multimillion dollar contract with a Big 4 firm. The sales guys went to a bar to celebrate and ended up bashing the guys they were going to be working with. A reporter overheard them and outed their comments and company. They lost the contract.

      All that to say, this is public behavior that was out of line. What the OP did was not PUBLIC behavior and the employer behaved terribly.

      Also I hate this trend of trying to out poor behavior to get people fired. I can’t believe it worked in this case.

    6. Nobody*

      First of all, this is a very different situation. In your situation, the employees were speaking publicly in a place where they had no reasonable expectation of privacy. The OP had a reasonable expectation that nobody but the recipient would see her text. Also, in your situation, the employees identified their employers by wearing branded clothing, which was not the case for the OP.

      Even in your situation, though, I don’t see why you had to tell your employer about it. Why couldn’t you have approached the employees directly and told them that you could hear their comments and didn’t think they reflected well on the employer, or even getting an usher to ask them to stop their racist comments?

      I don’t like the idea that your employer owns you and your speech and behavior 24/7 and if someone catches you at a bad moment outside of work, it could cost you your job. Now, there’s a fine line between things that affect your employability (like committing a crime, saying inappropriate things to a coworker, or criticizing your employer on Twitter) and simply being rude in public, but not everything needs to be addressed through someone’s employer. Do you want to live in a society where the person behind you in the checkout line reports you to your employer for having 11 items in the 10 items or less lane, or your neighbor reports you to your employer for letting your dog poop in his yard?

    7. TL -*

      Honestly, even that makes me squeamish. It depends on what they were saying (about the management) but everyone has a right to complain about work outside of work. And racial slurs aren’t okay, ever, but people have a right to say what they like. (And sports games, are, unfortunately, a place where slurs and insults are more effective.) I bet very few people noticed the shirts they were wearing at a ball game.

      I’d think tapping them on the shoulder and letting them know you could hear them (and that you were from work and recognized them by their shirts!) and stopped the behavior then and there, rather than reporting them, would be a better strategy.

      1. Wrong*

        I’m sorry, you’re expecting a woman to tap a couple of drunk men she doesn’t know on the shoulder and tell them to cut it out? I’d be afraid in that situation. I think Rae did the right thing.

      2. Katie*

        People do have a right to say what they like, but that doesn’t mean there are no consequences for what you shout in public wearing company gear. We have freedom of speech in the US, not freedom from consequence.

    8. BRR*

      I think your situation is slightly different. While I don’t think the OP is innocent, this is just another example to me of how shitty many retail workers have it.

  15. RVA Cat*

    Given the level of privacy violation here, and the fact that it’s I’m assuming a chain store with deep pockets, I’m wondering if it might be worthwhile for the OP to see a lawyer? This is the sort of thing where the law hasn’t caught up with the techology yet, but there could be a possible claim here. People would be far less likely to shoulder-snoop if they could get sued.

    1. HM in Atlanta*

      Even if there was room for a claim, I would think the claim would be against the snooper (not the store).

      1. AW*

        IANAL, but in generally it’s perfectly legal to take a photo of someone in public without their permission; you don’t have a legal expectation of privacy when you’re in public. I’ve no idea if there are any legal exceptions for correspondence or electronic devices.

    2. Krystal*

      She was very likely an at-will employee, so probably not. I personally don’t think that she should be cashing in on her own bad behavior.

        1. Natalie*

          On what grounds? The snoopy passenger didn’t libel the OP, didn’t publish her image without permission, didn’t steal her mail… I don’t think it’s actually against the law (civil or criminal) to read someone’s phone over their shoulder or even take a picture of it.

          1. MK*

            Reading over the shoulder, no, but taking a picture is illegal in many jurisdictions, covered by the same law that prohibits people tapping your phone.

            1. Natalie*

              Interesting, do you have a source for that? I’m not trying to be snarky, but from what I understand most phone-tapping legislation specifically refers to sound recordings, so if that has changed or been reinterpreted I’d love to know.

              1. MK*

                I am referring to what is currently the law in my country, so I don’t think a reference would help you. I also think there is a EU regulation that is relevant, concerning personal data.

                I would say though, that the text of any given law is rarely so specific; they are supposed to cover many eventualities. You might often see “personal communication by letter, phone or any other means, electronic or otherwise” than simply “telephone” and “forbidden to reproduce in any way” than “to record sound”.

          2. Stranger than fiction*

            But it was detrimental to her making a living because she lost her job and now has no reference either.

        2. Krystal*

          I don’t see how that could possibly be an actionable claim. Considering that it’s perfectly legal and not actionable for men in some states to take upskirt photos without the consent of victims because the victims were existing in public wearing skirts/dresses, this is not a privacy violation. If she opened the girl’s phone and read her messages without her consent, that could be different. Instaed, this girl was waving her phone around while making fatphobic jokes.

    3. Juli G.*

      I don’t think I would want the details of this one attached to me when there’s not an awful lot to gain.

    4. SouthernBelle*

      I’m not the litigious type but I immediately thought of this option after reading the OPs letter. If the manager is presumably reacting because of possible bad publicity for the company, or out of personal offense, or due to any reason other than the OPs job performance (barring some high profile or other inflammatory act that draws negative attention to the OP and can affect the workplace), then I would think that the OP would have a case for wrongful termination. And I’d definitely include the person who took and submitted the pictures to begin with. That seems a little more Judge Judy-ish but still, I would think that their actions would be enough to merit a civil action of some sort.

      1. SouthernBelle*

        Somewhere in there I lost one of my points – I meant to add that if the manager/store would react that quickly to possibly quell bad publicity from the OPs texts, then they may react just as quickly to squash bad publicity from a wrongful termination suit stemming from a blatant invasion of privacy.

        1. HB*

          This doesn’t rise to the definition of wrongful termination. Plus, the lawsuit would be public record and every time a new potential employer googled her, it would come up.

      2. AW*

        It’s legal to fire someone for reasons other than job performance, especially if the OP’s employment was at-will.

    5. Stranger than fiction*

      I was wonderimg the same thing , especially if it’s a big chain, because you’d think they’d have some sort of sensitivity training if so, like I mentioned earlier.

  16. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m not going to discuss the content of your text message because it’s totally your private business and everyone else is going to have something to say as AAM did.  Plus it’s not even the point.

    If you can stomach it, I wonder if a complaint to the EEOC (or a more appropriate government agency) is in order.  Everything AAM said is true: this is complete BS.  To be clear, I’m not saying you should beg for your job back.  I’m arguing that you should report your employer because they overstepped their bounds here.  Big time.

    On a related note, the customer is NOT always right, and I’m sick and tired of trigger happy people taking advantage of instant electronic communication to whine and complain whenever they see something they don’t like.  It’s one of the driving reasons Yelp is a waste of time for me.

    1. LBK*

      I can’t think of any relevant law that would apply here. The EEOC is definitely not involved; even if the OP wanted to somehow make a claim that her manager discriminated against her based on her weight, that’s not a protected characteristic. Some sort of privacy law, maybe, but I don’t know if she could go after the employer for that. Probably only the person that took the photos.

      1. voyager1*

        The OP doesn’t know the shoulder surfer though. I think if anything legal were to come about it would be against her first then the store.

        But the OP needs a name of the picture taker.

          1. BRR*

            Devil’s advocate alert, I know police can’t search phones but it still ends up at at-will employment. Plus would you want to go back there?

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      What are the EEOC going to do?

      Assuming at will employment is in play sending a text message isn’t a protected class, in the UK I’d have some protection against dismissal as the company would have to show a proportionate disciplinary response and show they have provided coaching and advise about my conduct, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for the OP.

      Don’t get me wrong the OP shouldn’t have been fired for sending the message, yes it was a bit unkind but it’s not so bad it requires losing her job.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        I’m not sure what I mean here. Ideally it’d be some government agency with oversight over this business’ hiring/firing practices. Any lawyers around?

        This is such an egregious overreach of this person’s employer that, yes, oversight is needed.

        The busybody who started it all isn’t culpable here; it was how the business responded that’s the problem.

        1. fposte*

          There *is* no government agency with oversight over business hiring/firing practice. This is something that gets mentioned here on AAM a lot, so I think it’s just your frustration with the situation that’s making you forget that.

          There are government agencies with oversight over illegal discrimination. Sometimes this discrimination happens in hiring and firing and they would get involved. It is not illegally discriminatory to fire somebody for texting mean things, and the EEOC is not going to care.

          (I’ll also note that I don’t think the OP is in the US, and if so I have no idea what the laws are where she is. But in the US, there’s nobody in the government who oversees hiring and firing.)

        2. Decimus*

          This isn’t illegal. It may be impolite and immoral, but it’s not illegal. I’m assuming the OP isn’t part of a union (since then the firing would be covered under the contract). In most states you can be fired for any reason or no reason as long as it’s not an improper reason. And improper reason pretty much means discrimination (or, in some states, whistleblower retaliation).

          The photographer customer didn’t do anything illegal either, because the text message was in public and reading it required no circumvention. It’s up there with how looking into a house without curtains from across the street isn’t illegal.

          Nobody here acted incredibly wisely, but while the OP shouldn’t have been fired, it’s not an actionable offense. It’s a bit like how a customer might complain to a business they saw a clerk wearing a neighboring sports team’s t-shirt while off the clock. Firing them for liking the wrong team isn’t really right, but it’s not illegal.

          1. MK*

            Taking the photo might be illegal, though. Per your example, it’s not illegal to look through open windows, but taking photos of the room is.

            1. fposte*

              It’s not necessarily illegal, actually. It’s perfectly legal for you to have a surveillance camera for the purpose of viewing your own property that happens also to film your neighbor’s property.

              And that’s in a situation where you may actually have a right to privacy, depending where on the property you’re talking about. There is no right to privacy on a public bus. The law is going to laugh at you for suggesting there is.

            2. VintageLydia USA*

              Not if those photos were taken while standing somewhere public (like the street or sidewalk.) The bus is public. It’s perfectly legal. (FIL is a cameraman and has on occasion done paparazzi-esque things to get the video he needs, though more with politicians than regular celebrities. He’s very familiar with the laws and we’ve talked about this before.)

              It’s the same reason why a lot of upskirt photos–even of minors–are perfectly legal. Distasteful as hell, but legal.

              1. Myrin*

                In my country, it is illegal to take a picture in public without the photographee’s permission if you can identify them (generally, not you personally). So it’s okay to take a photo when you’re standing on the top of a tower and take a picture of the market square beneath you that has dozens of people on it but it’s not okay to take a photo of three people walking close by.

                1. One of the Sarahs*

                  But the person wasn’t taking a photo of another person, they were taking a photo of their phone.

                  Here’s what I don’t understand – how did the photographer manage to take that photo a) in the short amount of time the text was on the screen and b) surreptitiously and c) so the words were clearly visible? Especially if OP was doing discreet texting? Genuinely don’t get this aspect.

        3. Katie the Fed*

          There is no government agency that tells employers they have to be fair.

          The EEOC only protects people in protected classes – being a jerk on your cellphone with no situational awareness is not a protected class.

          Yes, I think the employer overreacted but they have the legal right to do so.

    3. HRish Dude*

      Ignoring the portion where this person is obviously from the UK, Canada, Australia or somewhere where they use the word “odour” and the EEOC has no jurisdiction, I am completely baffled.

      What relevance does the EEOC have to any of this? There is no discrimination here.

  17. B*

    I’m going on the defense of the OP here because I disagree with the fact that she did anything wrong here. I don’t think the OP has anything against overweight people. The commentary is unnecessary but how many times have we all left work angry and annoyed for one reason or another and said some unkind, but PRIVATE, things to someone else? I don’t think one text message (and a comment in this email, likely reflecting anger over this ridiculous situation) is something that should define someone’s attitude and character, especially if her manager is an ass, which seems to be the case. If I had a rough day, I would be pretty put out if someone basically couldn’t keep their body to themselves and also stank to high heaven on top of it. Public transit is a land mine for this stuff and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done the same complaining just to get it off my chest. Is is uncouth? Sure but we’re all guilty of being mean sometimes. I feel like the fat comment is no different than if had been the douchebag guy with his legs stretched out 180 degrees taking up tons of room or the person who thinks their backpack deserves their own seat.

    The woman behind her was so out of line and so was the employer for taking her seriously. There is a certain expectation of employees when they are on the clock or in clothes that identify them as a member of a company but this woman went out of her way to violate the OP’s privacy and get this person fired. There is a gross entitlement to some people who are offended by something and this woman is a prime example. The worst part is then we have people like the OP’s employer who enable and allow it to happen.

    1. Christy*

      Yes, but you can help manspreading and sitting your backpack next to you. You can’t help being fat. (Whether you can help it in the long term could be debated (please let us not debate it) but you definitely can’t help it in the moment.)

      1. sam*

        I used to commute from NYC to a job in CT by train. I always got to the train early to get a seat, and being of a *larger* persuasion myself, I would grab an “inside” seat and try to minimize my space. 99% of the time, it was fine.

        One morning, this guy gets on the train at the last second, and sits down next to me. He clearly wants more room, and starts, very loudly, sighing and pushing into me, elbowing me, etc. Incredibly rude. But given that physics exists, there wasn’t really anywhere for me to go. I finally turn to him and say “Dude. It’s not like you didn’t see me before you sat down, and no matter how much we’d both like my ass to be smaller, it’s not going to happen between now and the end of this train ride. So you can either stop making a big show of just how fat I am or you can go find another f*cking seat”.

        He ran away. I think most people expect larger people to be so embarrassed and ashamed of ourselves that we won’t confront. While I’ve lost about 40 lbs since then, I’m not anyone’s definition of skinny (think sizes in the teens rather than in the 20s) and I’ll never try to wedge myself into a seat where there is obviously no room, but if someone is manspreading (or bag-spreading) across three seats, I have no qualms about insisting that they free up some space.

        All that being said, the person who was reading OPs texts over her shoulder and OPs employer were so far out of line that I can’t even see the line anymore. I’m sure it was a matter of the employer fearing some sort of imagined social media backlash, but man…

        1. Ad Astra*

          You’re a hero.

          And it’s a good idea to be straightforward with people who seem to be manspreading/bag-spreading. If you ask, “Oh excuse me, do you mind scooting over (or moving your bag) a little so I can sit here?” most people will move right over, and some might be a little embarrassed about their lack of awareness. And if the person does have an injury or some other reason they need to spread out, you’ve given them an opportunity to say so, and spared them the glares of passengers who assume he’s being selfish.

        2. Allison*

          The hell? Why would you choose to sit next to an overweight person and *then* get grumpy over not having enough room. I don’t care if it was the last seat on the bus, if I got on a bus and saw that the one remaining seat had half of someone’s butt in it, I’d think “okay, my options are A) stand, which is less than ideal, and deal with it, or B) take that half seat, which will be mildly uncomfortable, and deal with it!”

          I swear, I’m a tiny person and even I noticed men behaving like that if I sat next to them. Like, by taking a seat I was invading some random, average-sized man’s legspace. I’ve had men get pissy with me for sitting in the single seat they wanted, even if I got on the train long before they did. Of course it’s nice to have enough room to spread out, but public transit isn’t supposed to be luxurious, it’s just supposed to get people places, as an alternative to driving. If you want a nice, big seat to spread out in, you can drive or hail a taxi.

          1. Blurgle*

            It’s shaming. He was trying to make her hate herself for being overweight because that makes him feel powerful.

            1. Wrong*

              Not just shaming, but male entitlement to take up space. Women are supposed to make ourselves small and unobtrusive, unless a man wants to notice us.

          2. DMented Kitty*

            Our light rail transit has a “women’s carriage” out front, as privilege for women to avoid being squished (and possibly groped) by men on the unisex carriages. And I’ve seen that women can absolutely be as vicious with their sense of entitlement – women pretty much trample over each other to fight over the seats and literally get into fights just because someone else got into her “spot” before she did. Not that you shouldn’t be thankful enough you can stand without feeling like a mosh pit in that carriage.

            Ironically, during rush hour I preferred to ride in the unisex carriage – I feel I can handle myself better if someone decides to grope than listen to some lady for the entire ride bitching at me just because she wasn’t lucky enough to be able to get a seat. At least some guys are even nice enough to offer me their seats, which I treat as a perk for being in the unisex carriage.

            1. DMented Kitty*

              Not that women shouldn’t feel entitled to any of the seats in the women’s carriage – but it’s a first-come first serve for everyone eligible – but it certainly is thoughtful to offer your seat with the disabled, pregnant, and elderly.

        3. ImprovForCats*

          You’re my hero, too!

          (Being on public transit is probably the time I feel most self-loathing about my body, tbh. I do everything I can to scrunch up, even when it causes me physical pain (I have fibro and a handful of other nerve issues. The point being, I’m not trying to be fat at people.)

          1. sam*

            I have to say, I’m normally not that outspoken, and I normally do try to shrink myself into oblivion like all larger people who are completely aware that we are taking up more space than society has deemed socially appropriate (really, world – you don’t need to remind us that we’re fat. WE KNOW), but he was just such a passive aggressive jerk about the whole thing, that I couldn’t help myself.

            Normally I’m like George Costanza – think of these reactions about two hours too late. But I think the situation percolated for just long enough that I was able to react in the moment.

            1. blackcat*

              This! Seriously!

              Public transit seats fit me very nicely, without much extra space. And I am tiny. In every dimension. Plenty of normal people are 2x my size.

              Why these seats seem to be designed for me, who would blend in in a land of pixies, I do not understand.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              This is totally true. Especially on planes–people have been kvetching that “oh, if you don’t fit in the seat you’re too fat; buy another seat, etc. etc. blaggggwwrrggbbbll!” But I am 5’11” tall, and even at my thinnest, I JUST fit. I end up bumping elbows with seatmates and my knees become a part of the seat back in front of me. And I fly infrequently enough to notice when the seats have shrunk. I don’t need two seats for my arse, but I do need more room in front of me.

              As for public transport, I’ve only been on trains in the UK, and yes, those seats are narrow too. I fit, but they’re narrow. Buses are made for short people. I have not ridden the bus in my city, so I have no clue what the seats are like.

        4. Nervous Accountant*

          I wish I could ever be that courageous. Only time I ever stood up against someone invading my space (a guy kept lightly brushing up against me everytime the train jerked to a stop) I was yelled and verbally abused by a 3rd party, calling me fat bitch, ugly, annoying etc.

      2. Marie*

        Even if you can’t help being fat (debatable), you can help how much your size inconveniences others. I take the same bus every morning, and there is a person that I see almost every day who takes up 3 seats, because her body spills over to take up half of each seat next to her. These buses are usually full to capacity and this woman takes up 3 seats, when she could move into the middle of two seats and let another passenger take up that one left over seat. You can also take the “inside” seat, so that the person next to you could hover on the edge of their seat in order to accommodate the both of you. I think the bigger issue is the BO – if it was so bad that the OP felt like she was going to vomit, this woman is obviously not taking care of herself at all. I take public transit quite often, and if someone with intense BO sits next to me, I often choose to give up my seat to stand at the other end of the bus away from the person.

        1. Koko*

          The woman who takes up 3 seats – I’m not sure it’s fairly to expect her to center over 2 instead. Seats are usually bucketed so she’d be sitting right on a ridge up her crotch which is pretty uncomfortable. Aside form the wheelchair/pregnant seating where you give up your seat to someone in need, public transit is a first-come/first-serve situation, not a utilitarian-good situation. If she gets to the three seats first and her size means she legitimately occupies that much space, then she got there first. It’s not ideal but public transit isn’t ideal and she isn’t obligated to be uncomfortable every day just to make room for one more person to sit.

            1. fposte*

              Not much point in doing that anywhere there aren’t reserved seats, though. It’s not like you can buy your way into extra space on the subway while people are standing.

            2. Koko*

              This is not really logistically possible on a bus. You don’t pay for a seat – you pay to gain access to the bus and seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis.

            3. Katniss*

              Generally speaking you don’t buy seats for public transport. You’re just paying to get on the train or bus, not to have a seat.

    2. MK*

      I wouldn’t disagree with you, if it was only about the text. But the comment about her manager being the sort of woman who would crowd the poor size two girl in the inside seat and the one about having to be Mother Theresa to not think of overweight people as fat cows, does hint at a pretty objectionable attitude.

      I find the size two reference particularly distasteful; so if the crowded person was a size twelve, it’s OK?

      1. LBK*

        Agreed; this seems like more than a one off (or even two off, if we include the comment about the manager in the email) comment but more of an attitude of feeling persecuted as a thinner person.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Yeah, but we see that occasionally — people’s coworkers or managers making frequent comments about their weight or what they’re eating, and it goes both ways. The OP is clearly upset, but it could also be an entirely legit observation that the manager is acting so completely out of line because she is heavy and the OP is thin.

          Because the manager is completely and indefensibly out of line here.

    3. Laurel Gray*

      I am assuming that the OP’s disgust for the obese woman was more related to the body odor than her weight. Fat people are a regular part of public transportation, anyone who normally uses it knows this. But the random smells/body dampness (gag) from passengers is actually the grossest part of commuting. I took OP’s weight related comments to come from a place of snark, the same snark that many of us are guilty of in similar contexts (not saying it is right, just understanding it).

      1. MK*

        However, in her comment about the manager she references the crowding again, so I am not sure why you assume the odor was the main issue.

        1. Laurel Gray*

          She did and I took it as snark about the whole issue in a “of course, I’d get in trouble with my boss for saying something about fat people, she’s fat too!” I still don’t think the OP is a fat shamer (she may decide to post more about the incident and change my opinion however).

    4. Ad Astra*

      Why would you assume that this woman couldn’t keep her body to herself instead of assuming the bus was crowded? You can be put off by a crammed bus forcing you to be closer than you’d like to a complete stranger, but that’s not the stranger’s fault. She’s not doing anything wrong by existing.

    5. Biff*

      Even if the OP has something against fat people (and I’m not talking overweight — someone who is smothering another bus passenger has to be at least 75 pounds past the normal range) I don’t feel like that’s relevant at all to this conversation. At all. Everyone has their irrational fears and things they find repugnant. It’s pretty hard to change either one. The only thing you can do is act like it doesn’t bother you while you are on the clock.

    6. Observer*

      The snooper and the employer were wrong. Agreed.

      We’ve probably all done or said something that is rude or mean and that doesn’t define us. Agreed.

      “”I would be pretty put out if someone basically couldn’t keep their body to themselves” That’s kind out of touch with reality – people who are fat don’t have the option of just making that go “poof”.

      ” I feel like the fat comment is no different than if had been the douchebag guy with his legs stretched out 180 degrees taking up tons of room or the person who thinks their backpack deserves their own seat. ” You rally think there is no difference between someone who does something in the moment that he has complete control over and someone who doesn’t have a choice in the moment? No one NEEDS to spread out that way, or put their backpack on its own seat. But, even people who are fat because they are stupid guzzlers can’t make that disappear at the moment they get on public transportation. And, most people don’t quite fit the “stupid guzzler” stereotype, either.

    7. Katie*

      Agree with you on everything except the idea that LW doesn’t have something against overweight people. She very obviously does. Even if she was frustrated when she wrote her email to AAM and her boss is horrible, why immediately jump to her weight as the insult? It’s like people who use racist language when they’re mad at a member of a minority group. “Oh, I was just upset. I’m not really racist.” I think you have to be mad and racist or mad and fat-phobic to immediately jump to those insults, especially in the heat of the moment.

  18. Allison*

    And this is why I make a point of never sending mean text messages about someone who’s in my vicinity at the time. You just never know who’s going to see me sending that text, be it the person I’m talking about or someone else. Yes, texts are private, but with the size of our phones these days, it’s entirely possible that someone can see what you’re reading/typing/sending. In that situation I probably would have been just as frustrated and itching to vent, but I’d also probably just say I’m having a rough commute and wait until I get home to let it all out.

    But, the fact that someone not only saw you sending that tweet, but felt it was their duty to take a photo and rat you our to your manager is a little odd. Do you work in clothing retail? If so, maybe she was concerned about someone who hates fat people working in a store where fat people buy clothing, since that can be a really nerve-wracking experience for people who have trouble finding clothes. But even then, why was she reading over your shoulder in the first place? Just as I’m sometimes self-conscious about people seeing my screen in public, I know better than to purposefully read what someone else is texting.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      You just made me think of something, when I’m texting on my iPhone there’s no identifying info displayed as to who I am and just the name of whatever contact I’m sending to, so I’m guessing the pic was of her and her screen?

  19. Buttonhole*

    There is strange. There must be more to this than meets the eye, surely. OP, perhaps your manager really didn’t like you to begin with and this was just an excuse? Did you not do something at work to offend or anger the person behind you, which then prompted them to get even with you in this way? Not accusing you but merely raising possibilities.