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Racy Photo Shoot Lands Russian Telecom Retailer In Trouble

The MTS mobile-phone retailer says provocative staff photos that ended up on social media were taken as part of an "informal team-building exercise."
The MTS mobile-phone retailer says provocative staff photos that ended up on social media were taken as part of an "informal team-building exercise."
Was it a team-building exercise? Or was it a way to humiliate underperforming staff?

Whatever it was, it has landed Yulia Biktimirova in hot water.

On December 6, prosecutors brought misdemeanor charges against Biktimirova, director of a mobile-phone retailer in Russia's republic of Tatarstan, over allegations that she forced her staff to strip to their undergarments and strike raunchy poses in front of a camera as punishment for not making enough sales.

MTS, Russia's largest mobile-phone operator, has fired Biktimirova as branch director of the company's retail outlet in the town of Naberezhnye Chelny.

The photographs, allegedly posted on an internal company portal, were made public in mid-November when disgruntled employees uploaded them to social networks and complained of being "humiliated."

The photos depict male and female employees in bikinis and boxer shorts posing with their hands on their hips -- and sometimes making more provocative gestures -- in front of mobile-phone stands bearing the MTS company logo.

One picture, published by the popular daily "Komsomolskaya pravda," shows a young woman dressed in a speckled bra and skimpy wrap in front of what appears to be a cash desk ostentatiously cupping her breasts which are inscribed with "MTS" in marker pen.

Biktimirova denies forcing her employees to strip. She said her staff took part in the shoot voluntarily and that the photos were part of a company competition.

She faces misdemeanor charges that carry a fine of between 300-500 rubles (about $10-$16). "Komsomolskaya pravda" reports that her employees intend to sue her for "moral damages" if she is found guilty.

The scandal came to light when a former employee uploaded the pictures to the popular Russian social-networking site, Vkontakte.

"MTS is behaving outrageously. Employees who have been 'fined' are being forced to be photographed in bikinis in their work place, after which the photos are placed on the corporate portal,” the user wrote.

A former employee identified as "Sergei P." by some media said he resigned after the alleged incident because he was "unable to take the humiliation."

Prosecutors say that all the members of staff interviewed for their investigation confirmed the allegations.

But Biktimirova insists the allegations were fabricated by a former employee, who was seeking revenge after being fired for poor performance.

MTS, meanwhile, is trying to downplay the incident.

"MTS thinks that this event was intended as an informal team-building exercise and that taking part was optional. This is confirmed both by the nature of the photographs and by the fact that no employees filed complaints about the photo session to the management," MTS spokesman Aleksei Merkutov told media in Tatarstan.

Merkutov also hinted that employees who participated in the photo shoot may face disciplinary action. "We deem this a violation of labor discipline not only by the organizer of the event but also by everyone who took part," he said.

-- Tom Balmforth

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