Ethics Hero: Minneapolis Dairy Queen Manager Joey Prusak

"Good job, Joey!You made Dairy Queen proud and brought honor to the store, Here's 40 dollars."

“Good job, Joey!You made Dairy Queen proud and brought honor to the store, Here’s 40 dollars.”

It’s a simple story, trivial in a way, but with an important ethics lesson.

Joey Prusak, the 19-year-old store manager at a suburban Minneapolis Dairy Queen, watched as a female customer with a heart of ice saw a vision-impaired man drop a $20 bill, picked it up, and instead of returning the money to the unaware customer, slipped it into her own purse. When the certifiably awful woman got up to the counter to order, Prusak told her what he had seen and demanded that she return the bill as a condition of service. The woman, as one might expect from someone who would take money under such circumstances, refused, so Prusek reimbursed the visually impaired customer with $20 of his own.

A customer who saw the incident e-mailed Dairy Queen in praise, and now Prusak has become something of a folk hero.

The important ethics lesson is “Fix the problem.” If you are in a position to right a wrong or prevent one, it has become your obligation to do it. Don’t adopt  any of many rationalizations available to persuade you to do nothing— “It’s not my job,” “Mind your own business,” “Who am I to judge?”, “It’s not my fault”, “What if I’m wrong?”—or, in a case like this one, manufacture excuses for the vile miscreant who took the money—–“Maybe she’s desperate,” “Finders keepers”-–and just act. Fix the problem.

Joey’s instincts are good, and he took remedial action in a timely manner. He deserves the praise being heaped upon him, but the woman still got to keep money that wasn’t hers, and that shouldn’t have happened. I am not being critical of Joey when I say that it would have been better if 1) he loudly announced to the man who dropped the twenty that the woman had it and 2) told the woman that if she balked at returning it, he would take down her license plate number and report her to the police. As it was, he only fixed half the problem. The woman still got away with her petty, scrimey crime.

Joey probably didn’t want to escalate the confrontation, and was wary of getting adversarial with a customer, which are both  natural responses; he is only 19, after all. I’m more troubled by whoever e-mailed the tale to Dairy Queen and any other torpid bystanders who witnessed the incident without intervening: why didn’t they make sure that the woman gave back the money? People like her count on the apathy and ethical laziness of others, and do quite well with that assumption. It is fortunate and encouraging Joey hasn’t joined the lazy and apathetic. Let’s hope he never does.

The slightly less than completely apathetic customer’s  e-mail praising Joey Prusak was forwarded to the store’s owner, Dave Pettit.  He  posted it on the premises  and gave Prusak $40, along with a nice note—big spender, that Dave. Dean Peters, a spokesman for International Dairy Queen, said the company is considering how to reward Prusak, and get some good publicity for Dairy Queen in the process, naturally.

This is all nice for Joey, but one lesson we shouldn’t take from this incident is that good things happen to ethical people, or that good deeds are eventually rewarded. We have to do the right things because they are right, not out of belief in some grand bargain with the cosmos. If you expect  good deeds to redound to your benefit, you are likely to be disappointed, and soon bitterness and cynicism take over. The next thing you know,  you’re the one keeping the twenty dollar bill.

After all, she got away with it.


Pointer: Post No5

Facts: Duluth Tribune

37 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Minneapolis Dairy Queen Manager Joey Prusak

    • Typically it is not shoplifting until after they cross the threshold of the door to the establishment (as least in some localities). But in this case it was definitely not analogous to shoplifting. She clearly intended to take this blind man’s money because she thought she could get away with it (and she was right, as so far she did) and it was theft as soon as she picked it up and put it in her pocket.

      • At least in IL, it is shoplifting the second you pass the last Point of Sale (register). once you are passed that, you have displayed a desire to leave without paying.

        And even if you get stopped outside the store, you still can get hit with a defamation suit if you say anything about what they did.

        When I worked as a security guard, they were EXCEEDINGLY clear (like, an hour’s worth of training videos on this one topic) – never, ever accuse someone of any wrong action in any sort of public setting. Ever. You will be sued, and you will be fucking on your own when it happens.

            • She has no grounds. It just isn’t defamation—a first year law student could get such a case dismissed. If there woman were black, she’d have a better chance claiming she was refused service as a violation of her civil rights, but not defamation.

              • Saying that someone shoplifted or stole money – prior to a conviction – is slander. If, after trial, they are found guilty, then you have a perfect “truth” defense, but until such time you are making a statement based on facts that are not public. In addition, a large number of those “witnesses” may not even know what happened, and thus you have given them a lower opinion of the thief – the number of people who check the paper/court records to keep track of who’s guilty or innocent of what is damned small.

                There would be grounds until the criminal conviction, assuming that somehow they didn’t get off somehow.

                Which is why you file the civil suit very quickly, and hope they settle fast just to shut you up. It can and has happened before.

  1. I’m not proud to admit this, but…earlier this year it took me two episodes of seeing a Dr.’s office receptionist improperly treat patients before I complained to my Dr., who is also the director of the practice.

    The reason why, why a person who can normally muster up a big mouth and then use it with gusto, didn’t speak up after the first episode was because the receptionist was black.
    I was afraid my Dr. would think I was a racist.

    Since then, I have pondered the matter at length, mostly because I feel badly that I did not speak out for that first patient, who really was in a bind, all because I cared more about my own reputation. 😦

    If I find myself in a similar situation again, I will speak out immediately without hesitation and take my chances.

    As for the receptionist, she got fired.
    My complaint was only one of many.

  2. Hindsight is 20/20 but I have a big mouth so what I likely would have done is made sure that someone with a cell phone went out and took a picture of the woman’s license plate as she left. That way we could know who this criminal was and she could be publicly shamed for being the person who stole money from a person who is blind.

    • But we can all just hope that Karma is what it is and that all the good things happening to Joey will happen in the reverse to this horrible creature of a woman.

      • Karma can’t compete with a swift kick in the ass. This is why I’ll never be the manager of anyplace. My sense of justice would override the current corporate concepts! That lowlife woman is a good argument for bringing back the pillory. Literally taking money from a blind man! It’s a wonder she didn’t grab a lollipop from a kid on the way out.

  3. Okay, now I don’t know if I did the right thing today.

    As I was turning into the parking lot at work, I saw a couple of bills of paper money on the ground, smack in the middle of the driveway, just a few feet from the street. I stopped and parked temporarily on the spot, with my hazard flashers turned on; it was later in the morning, well past everyone’s start time and before lunch, so there was no traffic to obstruct. (I had been at a doctor appointment.) I walked over and picked up what turned out to be two one-dollar bills. I looked around. No one was in sight. I was hoping that at that moment, I would be seeing someone else walking around at that end of the parking lot, with body language to give fairly obvious indication that they were looking for something, or re-tracing their steps. But, I was all alone there. I work in one building of a complex of buildings; I have never attempted a rough guess at how many people work there, until now, but my first guess would be a couple hundred. There is no message board, or Lost And Found center, in the complex. I do not know the phone numbers or e-mail addresses of more than a dozen people there.

    So, how does one return two one-dollar bills to their rightful owner in a spot like that?

    I did put the dollars in my wallet, where they are at this moment. I am uncertain that I owe anyone a loud announcement that I found the money. I think of $2 as petty cash, but one can never be sure the loser of the money would simply shrug about losing it. For now, I will mention my find to the three ladies who are working in the same room with me today.

    Ethically, am I bound to do any more, to re-unite the money with whoever dropped it?

  4. The big spender statement struck me as being kind of snarky on your part – perhaps I am not getting your meaning?

    “He posted it on the premises and gave Prusak $40, along with a nice note—big spender, that Dave. ”

    What did I miss?

    • Nothing. It was snarky, and it was intentional. A nationally publicized gesture of good will that makes an employer look good is worthy of a bonus, and anything less than 100 bucks is an insult, and looks cheap. 20 bucks net? Come on.


      • He doubled the employees out of pocket gesture of good will. That is a significant bonus, though it doesn’t come to a lot of money.

        If it had been me in the store managers place, I would have refused the bonus as it would have cheapened my gesture to the customer – but that is just me.

          • If you were like everyone else that has worked for me you would think I was a great boss. You have focused on the dollar amount and have not taken the proportion into account. Pretty narrow perspective. If she had stolen 95 dollars, a hundred dollar bonus would be okay in your book? It wouldn’t be in mine, since the proportion would still apply.

  5. Idk maybe cynicism is taking over today but why is this national news? Someone made a very nice gesture looking out for a visually impaired customer… Great for the DQ newsletter, but now Warren Buffet, who’s BH owns DQ, may fly the kid out to their corporate meeting on his private jet?

    Are we that morally decrepit that this act is a lone shining light of American decency?

      • I don’t know, I think it’s kind of an inversion of the ‘there are worse things’ rule. Yeah, there are better things out there which could be focused on, but this is a small story that’s gaining traction against a lot of negative stories. If we waited for giant, world-shaking acts of philanthropy to broadcast, the news would even more depressing than it is now. And that’s saying something.

    • Hey, I’m as cynical as you can get, and I love this story. This kid probably makes minimum wage or something close to it — $20 dollars is a great deal of money. Small acts of kindness can escalate into something greater. How many people read this and asked themselves, “what would I do?” How many people actually engaged in better behavior because of it? And then those people who saw those good acts might have done a random act of kindness as well — or maybe contributed a few extra dollars to a charity? This is far more meaningful than the cute puppy pictures that we often see on the news to cheer us all up. (And I’m a huge animal lover btw.)

  6. Bloody hell, Mr Prusak did a good thing, the customer got his money back, Berkshire Hathaway got a good plug for one of it’s holdings, people in general can take this story as proof that there are still honourable people in this world and Mrs Morally Bankrupt is undoubtedly about to learn that what goes around, comes around. I see no actual downside here. i mean, yes obviously the woman did something disgraceful, but there will always be some bad apples. Surely the important thing is that Mr Prusak did something positive rather than just ignore it?

  7. Brave stance by such a young man who probably didn’t have a lot of experience confronting thieves. Too bad the other customers seem to have not backed him up, which could have pressured the heartless creature into returning the bill. I really enjoyed your last point, Jack, which can be a difficult pill to swallow for many, including myself at moments. I always shake my head when I see posts on social media promising that “karma” will come knocking, or what have you. Better to make one’s own peace with the fact that good ethics are still good even when life is not fair.

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