Ethics Hero: Michael Garcia

Say thanks to Michael, everybody.

Say thanks to Michael, everybody.

An ethical culture is constructed of millions of acts, small and large, prominent and not, that reinforce the best of human values, priorities and aspirations. The Ethics Heroes among us are those who recognize the opportunities to engage in such acts, and who have the courage, initiative and wisdom to not merely perform them, but to perform them impeccably.

Meet waiter Michael Garcia, Ethics Hero.

Garcia, a waiter at Laurenzo’s in Houston, Texas, was serving a family that has regularly patronized the restaurant since it opened. The family’s five-year-old son Milo has Down syndrome, and was talking and making noises, not being disruptive, but still noticeably different than the usual young patron at the family restaurant.  A member of a family at a neighboring table in Garcia’s serving section became annoyed, and began making disparaging comments about Milo. That family farther away from the child, and from that table, still within Garcia’s service responsibilities, said, the offended patron said audibly,

“Special needs children need to be special somewhere else.”

Garcia walked over to his table and informed the family that he would not serve customers who denigrated Milo  in this fashion. The man and his family left the restaurant; Garcia never told Milo’s parents about the incident, because he didn’t want them to be embarrassed or to ruin their evening


Another Laurenzo’s waiter told Milo’s family what had occurred, and it passed the story along to the news media. “We can’t lose track of what this is about,” Garcia has told reporters. “It is about Milo, it is about educating ourselves and when people are different, why should you treat them any different?”

A million ethical acts, all combining to make civilization better for all of us.

And each one of them is worth celebrating.


Facts: Fox News

36 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Michael Garcia

  1. “My personal feelings took over because that’s ignorance in my opinion and I told him ‘Sir, I won’t be able to serve you,'” Garcia tells”

    Im not sure this is an Ethics Hero story so much as a PC enforcement story.

    • What’s PC about it? When was it ever appropriate to mock a child, or not be kind to mentally challenged children? Political correctness is ideologically sanctioned attitudes designed to enforce conformity of values and thought where there is legitimate diversity. If is not PC to reject traitors, killers, rapists, harassers, boors, bullies and slobs, and is not “PC” to tell people who are unkind and intolerant of people who are not harming them and unable to fend for themselves, as in this case, to take a hike.

      • Jack, you’re forgetting that ‘PC’ has stopped meaning ‘politically correct’ – that is, someone who is so anxious about holding exactly the right opinions in exactly the right way, that they police language to a ridiculous extent. ‘PC’ now means ‘anyone less of a loudmouthed jerk than I am’, and as Jeremy demonstrates, can be stretched even to the point of justifying someone making rude remarks about a child with Downs.
        It is a great improvement for boors and bigots, who were once stuck arguing “I was just joking!” or “you’re oversensitive”. Now, PC can be used to imply those folks are not only humorless and easily offended, but are authoritarian oppressors who wish to destroy free speech for all.

        • And, Mythago, it gives you the opening to libel as “boors” and “bigots” anyone who holds a contrary opinion to your’s about anything. When you’re Politically Correct, you become an unassailable paragon.

          • Steven, setting aside the silliness of your “I know you are but what am I?!” response, “politically correct” was never used by anyone to describe their own views; it was always meant as a term of mockery of the sort of people who believed they were in fact unassailable paragons of right thinking as to all things political.
            We don’t say “bigot” or “boor” anymore, though. Apparently the new PC term for those things is “politically incorrect”, so that instead of merely being perceived as prejudiced or obnoxious, one can wrap oneself in the cloak of individual, iconoclastic thinking and free speech as an insulation against social criticism.

      • Its a case of PC enforcement because the “offensive” man was not in fact a traitor, killer, rapist, harasser, bully, or slob. Maybe a boor in that he had little tolerance for the noise that other families were enduring, but certainly not boorish in his behavior towards the child. My thought process here goes something like this:

        A child was making noise while a man was trying to enjoy a meal with his family. It may not have bothered the other families around them, but these things are entirely subjective. The nature of the child is irrelevant to the disturbance. You or I may extend an additional measure of tolerance, but man X isnt ethically obligated to do the same. The fact remains that the child was making noise.

        Were the man behaving boorishly, he might have confronted the family at their table or made a scene by shouting his opinion. What did he do? He moved his family to a separate table removed from the child. Keep in mind that this is an elegant solution. It resolves the noise problem while simultaneously failing to the put the offending family into a socially awkward position. This particular maneuver is far from boorish.

        So what happens next? The man makes mildly disparaging comments out of what is objectively understandable frustration. He didnt start dropping “R-Bombs” or quoting lines from the simba scene in “300” – where a man holds the baby Leonidas over his head on the precipice of a cliff, Simba style, and the narrator describes how Spartan babies are “inspected” and “discarded,” i.e. thrown off the cliff, if they are found to be anything but ideal physical specimens. He made a smart ass quip implying that the special needs of the child don’t excuse inappropriate behavior. The way he said it was ostensibly tactless but far from boorish; especially considering that, once again, extra social courtesy for special needs children is an entirely subjective affair. And as the icing on the cake, the man aired a tactless opinion quietly enough that the offending family couldn’t hear it.

        So what does this amount to? A man expresses opinions that the waiter finds distasteful, and despite the fact that the man has been reasonably accommodating by moving his family, and despite the fact that his opinions or actions had no effect whatsoever on the other family, the waiter comes along and refuses to serve his family the meal they came there for, based on offense by proxy and willingness to police his moral code on others. Nothing about that strikes me as Ethics Hero material.

        • The man makes mildly disparaging comments out of what is objectively understandable frustration.

          And gets mildly chastised by being refused service by others understandably frustrated by his unkind rudeness. I see nothing disproportionate there.

          The platinum rule : try not to be an asshole.

            • He was refused service by someone who properly exercised his shaming and shunning power to protect a vulnerable guest who was being abused by a patron. Any responsible establishment would do this as POLICY. A family should feel safe and well-taken care of in a public accommodation. No patron has the right to insult or denigrate another guest. The guy was being a rude bastard, and rude bastards have to learn that not everyone will tolerate their crap just because they have money to spend. I would have liked the waiter to explain that the proper manner of complaining would be to discreetly speak to management or the waiter about the issue–to which the answer would be; “I’m sorry, sir—there is nothing the family can do about this beyond what they are doing. If this troubles you, you are of course free to go somewhere else. BUT YOU WILL NOT INSULT OUR PATRONS AND THEIR CHILD WHILE YOU ARE DINING IN THIS ESTABLISHMENT! Are we clear?”

              But what he did was the next best choice.

              • In what way was the man abusing/insulting/denigrating the child? The child and his family were blissfully unaware the entire time precisely because the man had enough social courtesy to move away from the child and utter his opinions with enough discretion that they didnt carry across to the other families table.

                The short answer is: in no way. His opinions may have been insulting but certainly not his actions. No way in hell it was abuse. And whether or not he was unfairly criticizing is dependent on an entirely subjective view point. On the one hand, you and I may say – “the child is special needs so we’ll give his noise extra tolerance” On the other hand it is equally legitimate to say – “the nature of the child is irrelevant to the disturbance and its poor manners on the families part to expect those around them to grin and bear it.”

                And, just to cover the alternate meaning of denigrate, there is no way to look at his comment and conclude that he was disparaging (represent as being of little worth) the child. “Special needs children need to be special somewhere else” is not “Special needs children need to be inspected Spartan style.” Its a literal, albeit smart ass, reference to the fact that the families special needs status does not necessarily convey special privilege – since its common and polite expectation that families with noisy children or babies, remove themselves until the noisy episode has passed. God knows my mom drug my ass out of more than a few restaurants when I was little.

                So I ask again, specifically:
                In what way was the man abusing the other families child?
                In what way were his actions insulting?
                In what way was he denigrating (unfairly criticizing) the other family?

                • 1. “Special needs children need to be special somewhere else” is an insult to the family and the child. If the waiter heard it–and it was not directed at him, as I read the accounts, then the family might have heard it to.
                  2. The comment is also conduct.
                  3. Would you ask this question if he said, “Blacks need to go to places where they are appreciated”? What’s the difference? The message is “you aren’t welcome here,” isn’t it? And the restaurant’s proper response is, yes, they are. You, however, are not.”
                  4. The child, according to accounts, was not being disruptive, just different. I was at a restaurant recently where 7 Down Syndrome adults were being served. They were a little noisy and had some odd moments. What exactly were their caretakers supposed to do? They assumed good will and tolerance, because such people should be able to go out to eat too. In that restaurant, the patrons were fair, kind and accommodating.

                  • There was an incident at Generous George Positive Pizza place when a patron complained to the owner about a baby of a very young couple who was crying at another table . The owner explained to customer that children were welcome at his place and if the customer didn’t like it he was free to leave . The customer left and the owner walked over talked the couple and then picked up their baby and walked around the restaurant placating the baby to stop its crying and also to give the young couple a little break.

                  • 1. The comment is only an insult if it was intended to belittle the child, it clearly wasnt; for reasons detailed in yesterdays comment.
                    2. Comment is conduct, though the above point precludes this one if it was not in fact meant to belittle.
                    3. Emotionally loaded argument with little bearing to the subject for the same reason mentioned in the first point and described in detail in yesterdays comment. The man wasnt saying “special needs children are not wanted by virtue of their special needs.”
                    4. What is considered disruptive to a meal is entirely subjective. The child was, by accounts, “talking and making little noises.” Ive already listed what is considered the polite response by caretakers to these situations.

                    • I cant respond in line to your 12:04 comment (is there a comment stream maximum?) but suffice to say:

                      Thank you, and no big. You catch a lot of chafe from peoples poorly reasoned comments. If were being honest, I spend entirely too much time writing these comments and ignoring my Chem/Calc homework. I dont know how you deal with all the trolls and still have time for writing and living.

                • To be clear, though: IF the man’s comments couldn’t be heard by the child or his parents, if he was not behaving in a way that was overtly insulting or hostile, if the only one who heard the comments was Gracia, then I agree with you completely. The man has a right to complain at his own table, whether it is tolerant or not. The story makes no sense, however, if that is what happened. In that case, Garcia should be disciplined.

                  • The thing is, according to the story, it would seem thats exactly what happened:
                    “Milo’s family was unaware of the incident at all.”
                    “Garcia did not tell Milo’s family of the incident because he didn’t want to cause them any pain.”
                    “Another server told Milo’s family what Garcia had done.”

                    Additionally, it has all the hallmarks of PC enforcement:
                    “My personal feelings took over because that’s ignorance in my opinion…”
                    “Maybe there were other ways I could have handled it, but Milo is such an angel, he is a gift from God as are all special needs children.”

                    The evidence in the article seems to point to the fact that Milo’s family was blissfully unaware of the other man. A condition they could not have maintained had they realized he relocated his family or if they had heard his comment. And Garcia’s quotes are perfect examples of the “unassailable paragons of right thinking.”

                    • I think you may be right, Jeremy, and I apologize for initially and curtly dismissing your interpretation out of hand. I read “incident” to mean Garcia’s refusing to serve the guy, not the entire incident. I assumed that the family heard the rude comments. That’s because, as I said, Garcia is NOT an ethics hero for refusing to serve someone whose sensitivity to the mentally-challenged doesn’t meet his standards. That IS political correctness, and that is not his place to refuse his services because he personally doesn’t approve of their attitudes. If he’s a hero for this, then he’d be a hero for refusing to serve a republican, or a Red Sox fan, or Sarah Palin.

                      I didn’t read the story this way, and am still hard pressed to believe that’s what happened, because it seems so obviously wrong to me, and I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t be disciplined by the restaurant, if not outright fired.

                      Again, I apologize, and kudos to you for being persistent and clear-sighted.

                    • ‘Audibility’ to Milo’s family or not, I don’t see an issue with refusing service to intentionally disruptive people — the family making snide comments — which very well could have been audible to others and therefore equally improper.

                      This is a private establishment, not a political forum, if Garcia’s feelings about the malcontent family leading to refusal of service go uncensured by Garcia’s employer then he acted properly.

                    • I sure can’t agree with that. What if he threw someone out for expressing approval for a same-sex couple? Or for saying that a local college stinks? Or that woman across the room was wearing the ugliest dress he had ever seen? Audibility certainly matters—audible is rude, proper discretion is not. And unless the restaurant posts its values and political requirements at the door (raising a different ethical issue, which I recently covered with the place that over-charges liberals), I don’t think unsuspecting patrons should discover they are unwelcome for what they say to their own group, no matter what it is. Waiters aren’t supposed to be eavesdropping, and except for the special exceptions that occur when a server accidentally overhears a credible plot to blow up the Pentagon or White House, it should be presumed that a server is a dumb as a post. Big Brother has no business running a restaurant.

                    • No, establishment’s would not need to post their ‘values’. Values worthy of enforcing are known by civil society (if not practiced). Civil society can only hope to diminish and slip further into an uncivil abyss if uncivility is not checked.

                      It is a complicated situation indeed. I don’t think it can be reduced to a single sliding scale of the waiter’s judgment, at some point on that scale is the waiter’s “intolerance point”.

                      There are several sliding scales involved here.

                      Among them, the sliding scale ranging from “no one can here the offensive remark, we’ve kept it to the confines of our table” to “everyone, including the target, can here the offensive remark”.

                      There is a scale ranging from “society does not deem this remark generally offensive” to “society (at least civil society) is generaly appalled by this remark”. (such as the actual remark about ‘special people being special elsewhere’, it is safe to say that civil society considers such remarks wholly distasteful. The remark of the woman’s dress would fall under this category, as would the same-sex couple)

                      There is a scale ranging from “specific subsets of society are cool with this remark” to “specific subsets are appalled by this remark” (your example above, the local college would fall in this scale)

                      There is a scale ranging from “the general patronage of this place expects a quiet, unoffensive evening” (such as this restaurant) or “the general patronage of this place is tolerant of noise and disorder” (such as a sports or biker bar)

                      I’m sure there are other scales aiding in this judgement call, that is why it is so gray, and why I consider Garcia either very lucky in his judgment or very thoughtful.

                      The aggregate of all the separate scales helps guide the final decision.

                      Depending on just how loud the remark on the same-sex couple or the woman’s dress is, combined with just how offensively worded such comments are may very well tip the scale in denying service to those individuals as well.

                      The two items on this that cause me concern of it all:

                      Garcia identifies that Milo’s family did not know what happened, but he did not specify that the malcontent family’s comments were isolated only to their table. If it was only to their table, then yes, I agree fully that Garcia’s actions overstepped his authority. If not, and other tables were in ear shot, then there is just as much reason for wait-staff to stand up for the weak as any patron who also heard the offending remarks. Civil society doesn’t happen, it is maintained; and if it isn’t maintained, it diminishes.

                      The other concern is that Garcia describes his reaction as possibly a knee-jerk one. If it was a knee-jerk reaction (which it seems to be), then throw all the sliding scales of judgement described above out the window, he just acted on caprice and benefitted from his accidental decision being the right one.

                      As for big brother having no business running a restaurant, it isn’t big brother. You may have freedom of speech, and being an ass may be within that freedom, but sorry, in my private establishment, you aren’t in the public forum — certain of your freedoms are greatly curtailed.

        • He was a coward and an ass for making those disparaging comments about the child and not having the balls tom go over and say something to to the families face.

        • So, in short, you feel it was totally OK for the rude person to be rude, and anyone who reacted to that rudeness is in the wrong and OMG PC PC PC. Gotcha.

          The article was very clear that the family was not being disruptive, and that the complainer did not simply go to the manager or the waiter and say “I understand the young man may not be doing in this intentionally but the noise level is ruining our meal”. The complainer was an asshole. Not being PC, I don’t feel the need to anxiously use a euphemism like “politically incorrect” for assholes.

    • there are lots of jobs where doing what this waiter did would get you
      in trouble with the boss–chided, written up, fired, etc…a sad but true
      commentary from me, a great employee who often gets into ethical
      quandaries because many supervisors are ethically challenged.

    • Standing up for a child who has special needs is far above being “politically correct”. It is simply “correct”. “PC” implies weakness, and an unwillingness to state what one truly believes for fear of offending. Garcia’s actions certainly do not apply! He stood up for what he believed was right, without regard for himself, or the possible consequence of losing his employment. That takes courage and conviction. Bravo, Mr. Garcia!

  2. I don’t think the customers who Garcia refused to serve behaved ethically. But, I do wonder: How much business has the restaurant lost as a result of other customers simply walking out, without saying anything to Garcia or the manager, while the family with Milo received Garcia’s obviously preferential or favored service?

    Out of empathy, plus experience with a special needs person in my family, I can understand that not every customer or group of customers is OK with dining at a table near another table with a Down syndrome child. I would not want to dine anywhere near to Nicki Minaj’s hair, or within eyeshot of Timothy Geithner. But, I would not expect anyone in the restaurant to feel the same way, or to take some action to satisfy my “environmental needs.” Granted, restaurant customers, who find something off-putting, annoying, or otherwise offensive about other customers nearby, have scant recourse. But no, it is not cowardly to simply walk out without saying anything to either restaurant staff or to some “offensive” customer.

    • One might equally ask how much business the restaurant would have lost if they ignored the rude patron’s comments, and other customers simply walked out, without saying anything to Garcia or the manager, because they were offended that the family with Milo received obviously less-favored service?

  3. I believe wholeheartedly in right to refuse service. That being said, I feel Garcia’s actions completely justified. He represented his employer well, in two fashions:

    He represented his employer as one who will not tolerate bullies and, assuming his self-report of the incident is accurate, he technically did not deny service to the malcontent family on behalf of the entire restaurant. He merely stated that *he* could not serve the customers. This certainly gives the customers an out to move themselves again and seek a new server, or take the subtle (but not stated) message: “Get out”. Intentionally or accidentally, it was quite tactful.

    Something that I wonder may have altered the events is Garcia’s identifcation that he had served Milo’s family for years. Would he have been so defensive had this been Milo’s family’s 1st visit and the malcontented family had been the loyal patrons?

    I hope not, because Garcia’s performance could classify as signature significance.

  4. Anyone who stands up to verbal harassment born of bigotry and ignorance is a hero to me. If the offended parties didn’t want to sit near the little boy and his family, fine, they moved to another table and so what, problem solved, right? But then that remark “special people need to be special somewhere else” was inexcusable, because it changed the offended party’s behavior from avoidance of something making them uncomfortable to bullying someone just for being different. Saying it out loud has the unspoken connotation of challenging others and also seems to beg for the unpopular attitude to be addressed. The waiter did that in a polite and appropriate way. By saying “I’m sorry but I won’t be able to serve you” he sent the message that their behavior was unacceptable and wouldn’t be tolerated.

  5. Garcia refused to serve him because of his principles, which is applause worthy, and shows his innate sense of morals. Presumably the restaurant has other waiters who would have served this family of bigots, thereby resolving the issue of what’s PC/value-drive/ethical? That the man and his family chose to leave, were not thrown wholesale to the pavement by an indignant, righteous Garcia, places a new emphasis on this whole affair.

  6. He is a wonderful human being and his employer should recognize him in a good way for what he did. His employer should be greatfull to have him. Thank you for what you did, you are one of God’s Angels

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