Tip Shaming Fraud On The Web: NOW Do You See Why Applebee’s Was Right To Fire Its Vigilante Waitress?

bad-tip-fraud

At the beginning of the year, we had a real donnybrook on Ethics Alarms over my contention that Applebee’s correctly fired a waitress for web- shaming a customer who refused to tip another server on the grounds, as the customer wrote on her credit card receipt, that the automatic tip of 18% was excessive since she (a pastor as well as a jerk) gave God only 10%. The indignant waitress posted the receipt on Reddit, which led to locals recognizing the pastor’s handwriting and appropriate antipathy being directed her way. Since the waitress’s conduct was a clear violation of Applebee’s employment terms and because publicly shaming customers who exercise their right not to leave tips is a poor customer relations strategy, she was sacked. Subsequently the unapologetic waitress received a lot of sympathy, while equally misguided observers vowed to punish Applebee’s for not wanting to be known for having  waitresses on the payroll who are prone to misappropriate customer receipts and post them online to bring opprobrium down on the niggardly diners’ heads.

I think Applebee’s is looking prescient and wise right now. Ask Red Lobster, which did not fire Christina Jenkins, a 19-year-old African-American server at the Red Lobster restaurant in Franklin, Tennessee. Jenkins served a $44.53 order to Devin Barnes and his wife. Barnes wrote the word “none” by “tip, ” and, Jenkins claimed, wrote “Nigger” on the receipt as well.  Jenkins then posted a photo of the racist receipt on her Facebook page, writing, “This is what I got as a tip last night…so happy to live in the proud southern states. God Bless America, land of the free and home of the low class racists of Tennessee.” Going the Applebee’s vigilante one better, Jenkins allowed Barnes’ signature to be visible on the receipt.

The photo, and story, went viral on the web and the news media gobbled it up. Mr. and Mrs. Barnes denied that they would write such a thing (they didn’t tip because the order was a carry out), but nobody believed them. After all, everyone knows that white customers in southern states are likely to write “nigger” on receipts, just as everyone knows that sort-of white neighborhood watch members racially profile black kids in hoodies for carrying bags of Skittles. Jenkins, in contrast, was besieged with sympathy and cash contributions: the latest tally was $10,749. A handwriting expert hired by Barnes, however, proved that “nigger” was not written by the customers, but by the waitress herself. Now Jenkins and Red Lobster are being sued by the Barneses, who have been subjected to harassment and threats.

And that’s not all…

Dayna Morales, a server at Gallop Asian Bistro in Bridgewater, New Jersey, also posted a photo on Facebook  showing a receipt with a line through the  tip. line and the scrawled statement, “I’m sorry but I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle.”

As with Jenkins’ post, this inflamed the internet and sparked media interviews. Then the  family contacted NBC 4 in New York claiming the receipt as theirs but altered. The husband and wife, who asked to remain anonymous, produced a receipt that appeared to be printed at the same minute, on the same date, for the same $93.55 total, except with an $18 tip. (See above) They also provided a Visa statement showing that their card was charged for the meal plus the tip, for a total of $111.55. The wife also pointed out that she filled out the receipt, and says and could not have made the slash through the tip line, which is drawn from the right, because she is left-handed. Moreover, the couple said that they both worked in restaurants and believed in tipping, and were not biased against gays.  “We’ve never not left a tip when someone gave good service, and we would never leave a note like that,” the wife said.

Dayna, meanwhile, as is the new pattern,  announced that supporters were sending her tips from all over the world, and that she was donating some of the money to the Wounded Warrior Project. She had identified herself as a former Marine. Now it is emerging that Morales was dishonorably discharged from the Corps, and has a reputation for spinning tales to gain sympathy and more.

Got that, Red Lobster, Gallop Asian Bistro, everyone? Restaurants receipts are not to be appropriated by vengeful, venal, dishonest, indignant, or even mistreated servers to garner sympathy for themselves (or their beleaguered minority groups) or to bring fury down on customers regardless of what they tipped, or what the may have written. This form of web-shaming is an invitation to abuse by liars like Jenkins and Morales, and will turn the simple act of paying a tip with cash into an opening to be vilified for profit.

Applebee’s was protecting itself, but also protecting us.

______________________________

Facts: NBC New York 1,2; Opposing Views

27 thoughts on “Tip Shaming Fraud On The Web: NOW Do You See Why Applebee’s Was Right To Fire Its Vigilante Waitress?

  1. So the waitress has committed a felony (basically wire fraud), possibly opened herself up to civil liability (debatable, but you can see a signature that, while likely not the customer’s, can reasonably be assumed to be the customers name and the lie was done knowingly and with the intention of enriching herself), and opened her employer to possible civil liability as well (due to them standing behind someone they should have reasonably known to be a serial liar on par with John Lovett’s character).

    Did I miss any?

    Add to that the fact that only the dumbest and most unethical of employer would ever hire this feckless fuckwit, she has done a staggeringly good job – if this were a sane and rational world – of ruining her life.

    Who has the countdown clock to claims that the negative attention she has brought upon herself is “bullying”?

  2. Only quibble, Jack: in the original Applebee’s case, the waitron unit who posted the image of the check was NOT the waitron unit who actually served Her Reverence.

    And just so’s no one takes offense, the term “waitron unit” was commonly employed in self-description in the restaurants where I once cooked.

    Just keepin’ things straight – and happy Thanksgiving to all!

  3. The wife also pointed out that she filled out the receipt, and says and could not have made the slash through the tip line, which is drawn from the right, because she is left-handed.

    What! She can’t draw a simple line from the right because she is left handed. What sort of evidence is that?

    • She’s left-handed, so if she’s written it left-to-right, she could have smeared the ink with the heel of her hand.

      That doesn’t prove anything, and I’m not sure how they can demonstrate which way the line was drawn, but I’ll leave that to the experts. Nevertheless, I think that’s what that point was driving at.

      • Directionality is probably the easiest thing to tell…

        One side of the line will be darker than the other, with the end of the line being lighter (because you lift off as you finish the line).

        And having checked with my father (a lefty), he does in fact do his dash-out lines the way the woman says she makes her’s.

        That isn’t a universal rule, but it word be habit – if you do it one way, you probably always do it that way.

        And the comment was clearly not written by a lefty.

    • So this Jenkins person is STILL employed at Red Lobster? That can’t be right, can it? “Welcome to Red Lobster! Just a heads up, your waitress just might be evil and looking for ways to destroy and exploit you for profit…”

  4. Absent proof, I would be very cautious about claiming that Morales “was dishonorably discharged from the Corps.”

    A dishonorable discharge can only come from a general court-martial sentence. There’s no other way to get one. It’s the most severe form of punitive discharge one can receive from the armed forces.

    Since general courts-martial trials are open to the public and since records of trial are public record, the Corps would have had no problem announcing that a former Marine had received a dishonorable discharge or a bad-conduct discharge. Court-martial sentences are routinely publicized at the command where they occur, and beyond if the case has attracted media attention.

    The Corps would be much more limited in announcing the discharge characterization of someone who had been administratively discharged (honorable/general/under other than honorable conditions). The Privacy Act would apply, any proceedings would be behind closed doors.

  5. Mr. Marshall:
    Not having the benefit of seeing the first Applebee’s case that was referenced I went back through the links and reviewed the original post and subsequent comments.

    Irrespective of the behavior of any client or customer, the employee has a duty and an obligation to his or her employer to protect the employer’s reputation except in cases of known violations of law that would cause harm to the public; to which there are appropriate channels to communicate such potential harm. Therefore the employer had the right – but not necessarily the obligation- to terminate the employer/employee relationship.

    In the Red Lobster case, where the pastor did leave the note, had I been the manager upon seeing the ticket, I could have resolved the issue by taking the waitress aside and told her I would make up the shortfall in her tip. Why? Because the management policy to which she was obligated to follow was to ensure that large parties did not shortchange the wait-staff when checks are split among the participants. That is the purpose of restaurant policies to include a specified percentage gratuity when groups of eight or more are seated. Such policies suggest that the manager has both a duty and obligation to protect its customers, and its staff from abusive customers. This would have vitiated any further action by the employee and would have reinforced within the ranks that management has their backs in such cases. None of this excuses the behavior of either party.

    As for the pastor in the above case, her logic is flawed regarding tithes. A gratuity of 18% was probably not 10% of her income as a pastor.
    The concept of tithing is based on what should be rendered to the high priest and not to God. http://www.christianbiblereference.org/faq_tithe.htm

    “Tithe” means a tenth or 10 percent. The Old Testament law required that a tenth of all produce, flocks, and cattle be given to support the Levites (the priestly class in ancient Israel). In turn, the Levites were to give a tenth of that for support of the high priest (Leviticus 27:30-33, Numbers 18:21-28).”
    The New Testament does not make reference to any standard tithe. In fact, it explicitly states to give freely.

    In some of the comments on earlier cases, there seemed to be a thread of consciousness that suggested that people need to accept advances in technology that permit the widespread dissemination of fact or fiction and we must adjust our behavior accordingly. To that I disagree. For this gives power to the unscrupulous. We have the power to clone living tissue but ethicists struggle with to what degree cloning is acceptable so the argument that we must accept all technological advances is unacceptable.

    Unless I am a person that is bestowed by the public with the right to make or affect public policy, an utterance to a confined group does not give any member of that group to expand that group solely for the purpose of public humiliation. Technology also gives us the power to alter those comments for purposes of fitting a prescribed narrative. Simply because technology gives us the power to do something does not mean that we should do something.

    In the cases involving the waitress with the alternate lifestyle or the person that claimed someone wrote a racial epithet on the ticket, there are some who believe that the end justifies the means; such that, demonstrating that bias exists would permit the fictionalizing acts of bias to prove its pervasiveness. I am reminded of the Tawana Brawley case. Such ethical breaches diminish legitimate claims and therefore cause harm to those truly adversely affected by such bias. There are other legitimate means to offset acts of true bias and one of them is simply to turn the other cheek.

    There is an old saying that “what goes around, comes around”. Nowhere in that adage is the idea that the offended should facilitate a consequence to an offending party. The Golden Rule does not give license to those who are offended to perpetrate a similarly offensive action against any alleged perpetrator. Using the “newspaper test” to guide every aspect of personal behavior does not mean that we should expect every action to be plastered on the front page for all to see. For if it did, most of us would not take showers.

    On a more practical note: The merchant copy in this case shows a line drawn through the tip along with the offending note. At first, I thought the supposed offending patron could have written different things on both the customer copy and the merchant copy. However, if the card processer included the $18.00 tip in the charge then the submitted ticket would show the charge; which it did. Also, the register tape would show the total charge which would have had
    to include the tip for the drawer to balance if cash was removed. Therefore, it appears that a duplicate ticket was printed at the time suggesting a conspiracy to commit fraud. Given that tips are often pooled and shared with bussers and other staff, then the purpose of faking the ticket was to shortchange the other staff by pocketing a $18 in cash from another ticket so the drawer would match at the end of the shift.

    While I am not a handwriting expert, the two 5’s in the total columns shown on each ticket do not match nor does the slant angle or the weight of the lines in the impression. Most restaurant managers are professionals so they would see this easily. I suspect she was terminated for reasons other than the public post. Exacerbating the first ethical breach were the media outlets that played this up without any investigation. Had they done even a cursory investigation they could have mitigated the damage to the unjustly accused.

    The use of her status as a former Marine to garner sympathy adds insult to injury as her status was totally irrelevant to the situation at hand. It was used to create enhanced credibility for her claim. This took further advantage of others.

    In my estimation Applebee’s, Red Lobster, were justified in their decision to terminate the employees for cause.

  6. I think people defended Chelsea Welch (Applebee’s), even though they knew she was wrong, because of the ridiculous overreaction by that supposed “pastor”.
    You do not demand that a whole shift of employees be fired because one server acted improperly.

    • I do not know what the “ridiculous overreaction” by the pastor was. None of this has been confirmed by independent sources The claim that the entire shift should be fired came from Ms. Welch herself according to the Consumerist.com website.

      Their story continues with “As for the customer’s claim that they “give God 10%,” Chelsea says she’s “utterly baffled” at why someone would try to make a connection between tithing to one’s church and tipping at a restaurant.”

      Later in the article she states “I am expected to portray a canned personality that has been found to be least offensive to the greatest amount of people,” she tells Consumerist. “I come home exhausted, sore, burnt, dirty, and blistered on a good day. And after all that, I can be fired for ‘embarrassing’ someone who directly insults their server on religious grounds.”

      How is a simple statement an insult? Is a Catholic that decries abortion an insult that do not subscribe to that doctrine? No. It is just a statement of belief.

      This site specifically states that the post originated on Reddit’s Atheist page. Does that suggest perhaps an ulterior motive on Ms Welch’s part?

      “When I posted this, I didn’t represent Applebee’s in a bad light,” she continues. “In fact, I didn’t represent them at all. I did my best to protect the identity of all parties involved. I didn’t break any specific guidelines in the company handbook — I checked.”

      “But because this person got embarrassed that their selfishness was made public, Applebee’s has made it clear that they would rather lose a dedicated employee than lose an angry customer. That’s a policy I can’t understand.”

      The fact that “she checked” to see if this specific act violated company policy suggests to me that she understood that it could be wrong. Simply because the manual did not list this specific behavior does not justify it. What she needs to understand is that the transaction record is not hers to display in a public venue. End of story. Is this a policy that she cannot understand or is about a patron whose views she cannot stand?

      I think this is the statement in the piece that you claim demonstrates the pastor’s overreaction and why people defended her.

      “Some time on Wednesday, Chelsea says the customer who had left the receipt contacted her Applebee’s location, demanding that everyone be fired, from the servers involved to the managers.”

      This is Chelsea’s statement regarding the facts of the case. Has this statement been confirmed by anyone or just the fired waitress?

      She goes on to say . . .“I originally posted the note as a lighthearted joke,” says Chelsea, who was dismissed from her job at Applebee’s on Wednesday, as the story began to spread across the Internet. “I thought the note was insulting, but it was also comical. I posted it to Reddit because I thought other users would find it entertaining.”

      If something is insulting how can it be comical? She demonstrates a warped understanding of humor. Notice she does not mention the sub category (Atheism) in which it was posted? Major error of omission.

      Therefore, I do think that people that defended Ms. Welch should seek to clarify the facts and issues before jumping to her defense.

      The Internet has the ability to level the playing field in terms of public discourse. It can also corrupt our ability to reason when everything is treated as fact, In the ethereal world of the Internet not all Davids are the underdogs and not all Goliaths are “Philistines” that must be vanquished for what is right.

      • Thanks for freshly examining this—I was thoroughly sick of Welch by the time I had dealt with all of her irrational defenders, which essentially adopted a ‘working class hero” bias. You’re assessment is spot on.

  7. Update:
    Regarding the case of the pastor: Upon further investigation I am now convinced that the waitress in question whose post on Reddit, as she claims, was a “lighthearted attempt at humor”, was patently false. She did so with malice.

    The original post was found at:http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/17i382/my_mistake_sir_im_sure_jesus_will_pay_for_my_rent/

    Her post was not on her personally identifiable page. She chose to post anonymously on Reddit. Given that the category was atheism, it appears that the post was purposely designed to malign the pastor’s ethical behavior by casting her to be a hypocrite to support a personal secular view toward religion. Furthermore, she hid from personal scrutiny. That is the MO of a liar.

    Assuming the pastor did, as she claimed, leave a cash tip, the pastor’s comments on the ticket I believe were intended be rhetorical in nature for management’s policy and not to abuse the server. Thus, context is a requirement for complete understanding. Therefore, I retract my earlier comment regarding the illogic of her views on tithing. Question, does the media owe those that are incorrectly vilified the same amount of coverage when they are subsequently exonerated of wrongdoing? I say yes.

    I must admit that concept of automatically adding a prescribed gratuity for large groups bothers me because I often miss the fact the “tip” charge is added and then I use the line for additional tip as the tip. This occurs when we get caught up in the activities of the group and do not act as auditors of the bill. This results in double tipping and I can state that no server has ever informed me of my mistake nor has any management altered my ticket downward. My mistake is my mistake and I pay it even if it results in someone else benefitting from it.

    If, as the pastor claims, her card was charged the additional tip amount (which can be verified) and she left the prescribed $6.29 tip in cash then the server committed theft or management inadvertently helped her perpetrate the theft. In order for the pastor’s card to be charged in excess of what is on the ticket then someone entered the additional $6.29 when the ticket was processed without the pastor’s knowledge. That is prima facie evidence of theft.

    Even if the pastor did not leave a tip, no one should alter a credit card ticket without the express consent of the holder of the card. The words at the bottom of the signed copy states that the cardholder promises to pay the amount according to the conditions of the card. That is the covenant between the merchant and the patron. If the server altered the processed ticket without notifying the cardholder, the server jeopardized the merchant’s relationship with the processor and consequently, the livelihoods of all other employees whose employment is predicated on the merchant’s ability to accept credit cards. This is grounds for termination.

    Furthermore, the server’s comment that if she (the pastor) wrote it down meant that she wanted others to see it is absurd. If I write a letter of complaint to an organization, I do so to help the organization improve its service and to give them an opportunity address my concerns privately. I do not post complaints publically and anonymously. The charge ticket belonged to the organization and not to her. If she had distributed other private business papers copied via a camera on a smartphone without permission no one would question her termination.

    If management believes that a server was wronged by a customer then management can only right the wrong using its own resources. It has no obligation nor right to unilaterally correct the wrong by violating the cardholder agreement by adding charges to the patron after the ticket was signed.

    If the manager did allow the added charge to take place then the pastor was violated twice; by the server and the management . I see no reason to vilify or castigate the pastor for her actions. Her only mistake was to express her displeasure to a policy using the credit card charge ticket that allowed others to misuse it, rather than to deal directly with management over the issue.

  8. Isn’t it long-established in law and ethics that when someone send you a letter, you may do anything you please with it, including publishing it, in the absence of some reason to make an exception?

    To what extent, if at all, does that principle apply when someone writes to a table attendant on the same paper as the credit card charge slip? It’s a personal message to the table attendant, who has not agreed to an NDA with the customer. On the other hand it’s also a business record of the restaurant and subject to specific contractual protection under rules set by the payment processors.

    • The restaurant’s copy of the receipt, as it says right in it, belongs to the restaurant. The addition of the message doesn’t cause the document to magically become the intended recipient’s property, and has nothing to do with ethics anyway: the server’s ethical duty is to the employer, whose priority is customer relations.

      • Service in a restaurant involves the restaurant, the diner and the server, but only the restaurant and the diner are entitled to copies of the receipt. If later there is disagreement between the restaurant and the server over the amount of tip money the server should receive then there is no way for the server to prove his or her case. Maybe there should be three copies of the receipt.

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