Chimayó resident files lawsuit, says flask bearing her image is defamatory

Chimayó resident Veronica Vigil says Anne Taintor Inc. has defamed her by using her 1970 high school graduation photo on this flask, a product Vigil says makes light of substance abuse and is in direct conflict with the way she lives her life. Courtesy photo

Correction appended

A Chimayó woman is suing the maker of novelty products over a flask that includes her likeness and the phrase “I’m going to be the most popular girl in rehab.”

Her lawsuit, which was filed in state District Court in November but has since been moved to federal court, also names Doodlet’s gift shop in Santa Fe as a defendant.

In her complaint, Veronica Vigil, says Anne Taintor Inc. obtained and used her high school graduation picture from 1970 without her permission and has defamed her by linking her image to a product that makes light of substance abuse, in direct conflict with the way Vigil lives her life.

“Plaintiff is an active member of her church and does not consume alcohol or drugs,” according to the complaint. “Given the seriousness of the issues of substance abuse in the community in which plaintiff resides, she has held herself out by reputation for her children and her community, to refrain from abuse or even use of alcohol and illicit drugs and has set an example that the issue is a very serious one that destroys families and lives.”

Vigil and her husband, who have two grown children, operate an auto-restoration business in Española. Vigil’s attorney, Blair Dunn, said he wasn’t sure which high school Vigil graduated from but believed it was either Española High School or Pojoaque High School.

Dunn said Vigil’s daughter came across the flask — which features a young Vigil sporting a beehive-inspired hairdo — while vacationing in Florida. The product was not listed on Taintor’s website Friday, but it was offered on Amazon for prices ranging from $21.95 to $25.29.

Anne Taintor Inc. founder Anne Taintor is a Harvard University graduate who, according to the company’s website, has been “making smart people smile since 1985” by selling a variety of products that juxtapose vintage pictures of stereotypically portrayed women with sarcastic slogans that seem to reflect what they might be thinking.

“It’s okay, I didn’t want a real life anyway” and “Make your own damn dinner” are some of the slogans the company has used in conjunction with pictures of smiling housewives on a variety of products, including mugs, flasks, sticky notes, towels, calendars and phone cases.

Taintor began the company — which is celebrating its 30th anniversary and boasts 3,000 outlets in 25 countries — in Maine. But she operated the business from Coyote, N.M., where she lived for about a decade before returning to Maine a few years ago. A message left at her New York City office was not returned. Her Albuquerque-based attorney could not be reached Friday.

Dunn said Doodlet’s — a Santa Fe toy store and gift shop that has been in business since 1955 — is named in the complaint because the store has likely sold magnets and cards bearing the same image as the flask, and thousands of other Taintor products over the years.

Store owners did not return a call from The New Mexican, but they said in an answer to the complaint that they have never sold Taintor products bearing Vigil’s image and that they should not be a party in the suit.

Dunn said other New Mexico outlets, including Talin Market in Albuquerque and Cost Plus, also have carried products with Vigil’s image.

Taintor Inc. has had the case moved to U.S. District Court on the basis that the company is no longer located in New Mexico (cases such as these can only be moved to federal court if the parties live in different states).

But Dunn said he’s trying to have the case moved back to the First Judicial District partially because he thinks a local jury would be better able to understand the harm the products have brought to Vigil’s reputation.

The use of the image has led others to think that Vigil “either has a problem with drugs and alcohol personally, or she condones the use of her image to make light of an important social issue that affects her community,” according to the complaint, and this use has caused her to be “held up to scorn and contempt.”

The suit, which charges Taintor with defamation, invasion of privacy and unfair trade practices, seeks an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages.

Contact Phaedra Haywood at 986-3068 or phaywood@sfnewmexican.com.

Correction: This story has been amended to reflect the following correction. A previous version of this story said the Santa Fe store Doodlet's sold the flask. They likely sold magnets and cards bearing the same image as the flask. The story also said another New Mexican outlet to sell the flask was Costco; it was instead Cost Plus.