McDonald’s And The Blind Man: Why Law Is A Lousy Substitute For Ethics

mcdonalds drive-thru

Thirty-five-year-old Scott Magee is blind, and he resents the fact that McDonald’s has a policy denying walk-up customers at the  drive-through window at his local Louisiana Mickey D’s, as well as everywhere else.  The policy, let us stipulate, is objectively reasonable. McDonald’s has a right to designate a window for drive-through customers and to choose not to offer a walk-up service like Dairy Queens. (Come to think of it, I don’t know that DQ has that any more. Does it?)  It also has a right not to subject itself and its drive-though customers to liability for inadvertently hitting stoned fools who stumble over to the window late at night seeking munchies.

Magee and his Jackie Chiles-emulating New Orleans lawyer, however, are suing the burger chain, arguing that its refusal to accommodate non-drivers who are blind is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Now a class-action lawsuit, filed last week  in Chicago’s federal court, alleges that McDonald’s has no “concern whatsoever for the accessibility of the late-night drive-thrus to the disabled.”

Oh, thank-you, George H.W Bush!* The ADA has always been an overly broad and mischievous law that endorses and enables the tyranny of the minority. I have often wondered how often all those wheelchair lifts the law forced financially strapped public transportation departments to install in their buses have been used, and what the cost per use is. I am certain it would have been far cheaper for the cities to just pay for cabs to drive the handicapped commuters door to door, but that would have stigmatized them.

Bush caved to the lobbying for  cultural acceptance of the very debatable concept that citizens have a right to force others, including the government, to solve all of their individual problems, and the cost to the rest of society just doesn’t matter. That idea, a really bad one and a slippery slope to boot, has taken hold with a vengeance, the most prominent recent example being the theory that because less than 1% of the humanity faces a dilemma when choosing which bathroom to use, the rest of the public must forego the comforting privacy of gender-segregated bathrooms and dressing rooms. All girls should learn to be comfortable looking at male genitalia, that’s all, says the Charlotte Observer. How did we reach teh absurd point where that proposition can be seen as more reasonable, equitable and  fair than asking transgender Americans  to endure the occasional discomfort of using the “wrong” bathroom so his or her fellow citizens are comfortable? Why is it preferable to launch a divisive and nasty cultural and legal battle over the issue?

Unless Magee’s case gets thrown out of court, and don’t bet on it, all fast food restaurants will be forced to set up and staff walk-up windows, eliminate drive-up windows, or close down their drive-through service when inside service is shut down for the night. (If Scott can’t have that convenience, no one should.) Either over-head will rise for all fast food chains, causing job losses and higher prices, or everybody will lose the convenience of after-hours drive-up service because there is no safe, reasonable, affordable policy that will satisfy Mr. Scott Magee ‘s late night cravings for McNuggets.

Yes, it would have been nice, and ethical, if the owner of the McDonald’s in question played a little ethics chess and worked out a quiet, compassionate way to make Scott feel loved and catered to. It would have been worth it to agree to just deliver Scott whatever he wanted when the munchies struck, even giving him a special number to call. It would also have been ethical–responsible, considerate, fair, proportional—if Scott just planned ahead and got his Big Mac before the place closed it’s doors. A little mutual consideration and flexibility, some sacrifice and concern for others, a willingness to see things from the other side’s perspective, and this could have been avoided. Instead, jobs may be lost, a convenient service may be sacrificed, prices will rise, business will be lost, and all because one blind man feels that the whole world should adapt to his needs, and not the other way around.

Yes, thanks Papa Bush!

Thanks, McDonalds!

And a special thanks to Scott Magee.

I sure hope he enjoys his burger.

It’s going to cost enough.

*In a moment of momentary amnesia and stupidity, I wrongly blamed the ADA on President Carter. I apologize to Jimmy, though I’m certain he was a supporter.  It’s still an overly broad, ethically muddled, pandering law.

40 thoughts on “McDonald’s And The Blind Man: Why Law Is A Lousy Substitute For Ethics

  1. “The policy, let us stipulate, is objectively reasonable. McDonald’s has a right to designate a window for drive-through customers and to choose not to offer a walk-up service like Dairy Queens. (Come to think of it, I don’t know that DQ has that any more. Does it?) It also has a right not to subject itself and its drive-though customers to liability for inadvertently hitting stoned fools who stumble over to the window late at night seeking munchies.”

    1) I’ve seen Dairy Queens in small towns with walk-up windows. Those in larger towns and cities definitely don’t anymore.

    2) Your second point about drive-thru customers is right on target. I used to work at McDonald’s when I was in college. People speed around the building, don’t pay attention to what window they’re stopping at and back up without checking to make sure there’s not someone behind them. Pedestrians in the drive-thru lane take their lives in their own hands.

  2. Jack: “Oh, thank-you, Jimmy Carter! ”

    For what? The ADA was enacted under Bush the Elder. And, I think it was based upon another law that Nixon enacted in 1972 (I forget the name).

    Maybe I misunderstand your reference to Jimmy Carter.

    -Jut

  3. Scott Magee should just get in a car and drive through like others do, he’ll probably do as well as the drunken idiots getting their munchies the after bar time. 😉

    Seriously; this law suit is frivolous self-centered BS and should be thrown out of court.

  4. “…arguing that its refusal to accommodate non-drivers who are blind is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

    Isn’t this more McDonald’s refusing to accommodate non-drivers, who last I checked weren’t a protected class?

    Let’s say I were to own and operate a store and refused service to people who, I dunno, whistle Justin Bieber. If a blind person walks into my store whistling a Justin Bieber tune and I refuse them service, am I now in violation of the ADA for failing to accommodate Justin Bieber whistlers who are blind?

  5. This is a total aside, but has anyone ever wondered how the physically handicapped get around Europe? The few times I’ve been to London, Rome, and Paris, I have noticed that there are no handicapped people anywhere to be seen. And there’s no way for them to get into 90% of the buildings or to utilize public transportation there anyway. So where are they and how do they work?

    • There are mo handicapped people in Europe. Or blind people. Ask Bernie. It’s Paradise! In Europe, you have a right to see. The government guarantees sight for all, and not just 20-20; 20-15.

      What kind of country has a right to own a gun, but no right to SEE??

      Just wait, that will be on a Facebook meme sent out by OccupyDemocrats by tomorrow, but they won’t realize it’s satire.

    • Having just returned from two weeks in Italy I noted many accommodations for the blind. The Uffizi had 3D versions of paintings (think bas relief) for the blind. All the metro and train stations in Rome had grooved, yellow paths leading to tracks. There were some pretty smart systems for giving textural signals. There were many more ramps and elevators than I was aware of two years ago.

  6. Jack, It’s not just fast food. Banks often keep the drive through open beyond the bank lobby operating hours. Walkups are not permitted to use the drive-up windows in those banks for the very reasons you cited.

  7. I’m not sure a rant against LBGT accommodations should be conflated with one for the handicapped. I suspect the drive through used to accommodate him and then stopped. That was a recent change here. I think there could be an accommodation, a standard one they might be trying to provoke, that would not require special windows and staffing. I have long thought it’s a little sad that a late night walk-up customer can’t buy a burger when one goal is to reduce gasoline use.

    • No rant. Where’s the rant? This is the same principle: a legitimate problem in which a vast majority is required to sacrifice its own comfort and convenience—note that I didn’t say “safety”—in order to mitigate it. And I don’t see what your speculations add to the analysis. Having pedestrians in a line of cars is per se dangerous and inviting liability. What’s your “standard accommodation”? A sign that Says “Beware of Blind People”? How would you justify service for the blind and no service for the non-blind? It would become a walk-up window, with cars.

      And this…”I have long thought it’s a little sad that a late night walk-up customer can’t buy a burger when one goal is to reduce gasoline use” is certifiable. It’s called fast food, not “walk three miles to get a burger and have it cold by the time you get home” food. Gee, I wonder how much global warming will be reduced by letting walkers stand in dive-in line…

  8. Accommodation – provide a tricyle or scooter, chained just outside the window, able to be moved a metre or so. That way they’re using a vehicle, so can be served. Any pedestrians can use it not just the blind, but unlike the blind, most people have access to a vehicle in theory.

    This is silly, Jack. The underlying spirit of the law is that you can’t just say “oh it’s too hard to go out of my way even a little bit to make life suck a little less for those who are doing it tough”.

    Implementation – has sucked in the USA, with ambulance chasers. Stipulated, That doesn’t make the principle wrong.

    That you don’t see that is what is called “privilege”. Something we all have to one extent or another. Stuff we have that others don’t, and which we should not take for granted (but do). The thing is, that those who have privilege – like myself – aren’t usually aware that we do. We usually have to be reminded of it (or at least, I do) as I’m doing to you, now.

    Tell me – if this guy wasn’t blind, but had no legs and used a motorised wheelchair – would you be OK with refusing him service? Absent other conditions like waving a gun around, I mean? What about someone on a motorbike? A pushbike? Roller skates?

    It’s legalistic assholery that no exception would be made in the case of someone who’s blind. OK, those who live by legalistic assholery shall die by legalistic assholery. If there’s no other way of getting a firm – rather than an individual – to act with simple common decency and humanity, then yes, go legal on them, both barrels. Such legal crap shouldn’t be necessary, but cases like this show that it is.

    We can argue whether the cure is worse than the disease in the general case, but in this case, I think it’s pretty clear.

    Disclaimer: I live in a jurisdiction without many ambulance chasers. Yet it’s deemed scandalous if basic facilities such as ramps are missing from public buildings, or if simple, cheap accommodations aren’t made. Those in wheelchairs still have it rough, but no need to make their lives even harder than they have to be. I was 10 years old when pedestrian crossings last didn’t have auditory warnings for the visually impaired.

    • I just want to know where the line in the spirit of the law goes from going out of the way a “little bit” to “too much”?

      Also where the line of “privilege” ends and begins in terms of things. What defines one person being “privilege” that we need to completely level the paying field at any expense? Is it a disability? How about money? There are plenty of people with more money then I, should we all get the equal amount? How about height, short people have it tough on a lot of things, do we need to make tall people shorter? Athleticism, strength? All things you’re born with, and some people have more then others, and can do things others can’t. So where is that dividing line that goes from a little bit to your “legalistic assholery” you seem to love? It’s completely unfair pro sports athletes get to play a sport based primarily on their physical abilities. Ban all sports!

      Yes, I know, it’s exaggeration. But SOMEWHERE we have to hit a point where a person has to live with their abilities, for however good or bad they are, and manage their life to those abilities. Not expecting the rest of the world to change just to fit them.

      • “A person can be entirely sympathetic to fair treatment, strongly oppose actual discrimination, and generally be a fair-minded individual without being compelled to conclude that more than 95 percent of Americans ought to be made to accommodate any and all demands from 0.3 percent of the population.

        By the way, just for the record, white males of European descent who are heterosexual actually encounter situations where we get treated like crap. I can vouch for this. Some would call this life.
        ..
        In a broader context this debate should focus on just how much accommodation is reasonable to expect, much less to demand as a matter of a legal right. When is it that more than nine in 10 Americans will be allowed to say: “We don’t hate you. We even understand and agree you deserve not to be discriminated against. However, this has become an argument that centers on personal comfort levels. You need to deal with being uncomfortable. It is more fair, more logical, and more reasonable than asking all the rest of us to adjust to you. Where possible, we will attempt to reduce this discomfort by providing separate facilities. However, a good deal of the time, you are just going to have to suck it up and deal with things.”

        http://www.insidesources.com/it-just-seems-a-bit-much/

        You know – stop being so Uppity.

        The author, Bill Greener III, is a former communications director for the Republican National Committee whose consulting firm represents the RNC and a number of Republican members of Congress.

        See also “Tyranny of the Majority”.

        • He’s also right. (The fact that he worked for Republicans means he must be bigoted, dumb and wrong>) In a democracy and a rational society, the majority in fact does tilt the culture and what is considered, in that culture, reasonable and fair. Balancing is what ethics relies on in many cases. Making the vast majority uncomfortable in order to accommodate a non-existential inconvenience–legitimate, not exaggerated, genuinely a source of anxiety—is bad ethical problem solving. There is nothing wrong with sometimes saying “Sorry, the societal costs are too great to fix this for you. I guess you just have to deal with it, and we will try to educate everyone else to be understanding.”

          • “Making the vast majority uncomfortable in order to accommodate a non-existential inconvenience–legitimate, not exaggerated, genuinely a source of anxiety—is bad ethical problem solving.”

            What happens if it’s not a “vast majority”? While it may be, that’s something that can’t just be asserted.

            I also don’t agree. Your argument would have upheld Jim Crow and Segregation. Many, and I dare say most, Southern Whites, a distinct majority, were very uncomfortable having to share restrooms and even lunch counters with Blacks, were they not? If I’m erecting a Strawman here, please can you distinguish the two cases for me, as I’m genuinely flummoxed as to how to distinguish them.

            • You really think my argument would have upheld Jim Crow and Segregation? The fact that I keep hearing extreme straw man defaults like that on this issue reinforces my conviction that the argument for mandated at-whim bathroom use is a powerplay rather than an issue of great importance to the supposedly aggrieved. It’s like the bad analogies being used to argue that they shouldn’t have shot the gorilla:

              1. The number of blacks isn’t a tiny minority, it’s a substantial, historically crucial and very visible minority
              2. Jim Crow was illegal when it was in place.
              3. No civic or civil rights are withheld because an individual can’t use the bathroom they would like to.
              4. Comparing volitional public bathroom use to voting, holding office, going to school and using restaurants and public accommodations is more than a stretch, it fogs the debate.

              5. No stigma is involved here. Individuals with penises use urinals, and anyone who objects, on either side, is being unreasonable.

              6. We are not talking about voting, being able to be served in restaurants or in stores, being eligible for jobs, being able to go to school, or any substantive societal benefit available to all citizens. We’re discussing a binary choice that has worked out, peacefully and practically, for a very long time. Other than that, you’re right: Jim Crow is EXACTLY like requiring people with dicks to use the men’s room.

              We are all created equal, but some of us were created different. Society is not and should not be required to accommodate every difference, even when they are inconvenient or embarrassing.

          • The fact that he worked for Republicans means he must be bigoted, dumb and wrong

            Hillary Clinton worked for Republicans, true, but one swallow does not a Summer make. You can’t generalise from a sample of two.

            None of the Republicans I know are dumb. Whether they are wrong or not is debatable. Only one or two are bigots, but we all have our faults, and there’s worse things than bigotry.

    • I can’t believe you followed up a suggestion to “provide a tricyle or scooter, chained just outside the window, able to be moved a metre or so. That way they’re using a vehicle, so can be served. Any pedestrians can use it not just the blind, but unlike the blind, most people have access to a vehicle in theory” with “this is ridiculous.”

      THAT was ridiculous. (I had a friend who tried to get admitted to a drive-in movie using a bicycle. he claimed discrimination too.) “Privilege” is a sneaky and intellectually manipulative way of saying that people who are lucky should feel shame about it, and people who aren’t have a right to demand that everyone mitigate the hand life has dealt them. Wrong. Very wrong. I’m bald, I was never athletic, I have terrible eyesight, I’m slow; I have bad joints, I’ve never had a knack or interest in making money, I will probably be working until I drop, I have lots of things I wish I could do well that others do easily without thinking about it. But I play the hand life dealt me….pretty damn audaciously and well, too, though I’ve lost some big pots.

      The ADA legislates kindness, compassion, charity and more. Of course, once conduct is mandated, it is none of those things, and just causes resentment. Correctly so.

      It’s not about “ambulance chasers;” it’s a bad law that people use, predictably, to get special benefits and to inconvenience or bleed everyone else. If I have claustrophobia, and can’t stand a bathroom stall because it’s too small, I could use the law to try to force their workplace to build some wide open space to use. Wrong. It should not be up to others to solve my problem. So using the toilet is traumatic. I’ve got to deal with it.

      Nothing in law, ethics or common sense should require that those with special problems can demand that others without those problems forego their relative advantages, and the “need” for late, late night fast food is as good a reductio absurdum as I could imagine. I’m sorry you’re blind. Get your snack before 10; don’t force the McDonald’s to eliminate the service for everyone because you can’t access it. The Golden Rule works both ways.

      A business has a right to close at a reasonable hour and maintain a drive-in service, and not a walk-in service. For those who can’t drive, not just the blind but the elderly, drunk or carless, their situation is no worse than it would be if the restaurant just closed, and there was no drive-thu at all. If you can’t drive, you plan. You take the bus. You get your burger before the McD’s closes.

  9. But SOMEWHERE we have to hit a point where a person has to live with their abilities, for however good or bad they are, and manage their life to those abilities. Not expecting the rest of the world to change just to fit them.

    We’re arguing about where that SOMEWHERE is.

    Remember the lesson of the Ugly Laws, last enforced in the 70s. Or those who argued against Abolition because Slaves were “expecting the rest of the world to change just to fit them.”

    As they were. And, it has to be said, as I am, insisting that Intersex people exist, and current laws based on the assertion that we don’t should be re-evaluated in the light of that reality.

    Despite the pushback, and despite the fact that coercion goes against the grain for me. Sometimes there’s no other option.

    It was on this very site that there was the following comment:

    “However, if they and you think you can intimidate the human race into bowing down to your perverse agenda, you had better guess again. You cannot hide the reality of your condition and motives forever. WE are the human race and you are tolerated only to a point.,”
    — Steven Mark Pilling, Chair of the Harris County TX GOP, on Intersex kids.

    • “We’re arguing about where that SOMEWHERE is.

      Remember the lesson of the Ugly Laws, last enforced in the 70s. Or those who argued against Abolition because Slaves were “expecting the rest of the world to change just to fit them.””

      I think what frustrates people is there doesn’t seem to be a somewhere. There is always someone suing for what is generally a minor inconvenience to a specialized circumstance. This isn’t just for disabilities, but for many things. No two people are the same, and there are going to be things that may benefit you, or may inconvenience you, based on a specific circumstance of your own. You need to learn to manage that.

      As for “The Ugly Laws”. Are we talking about those laws that stated we shouldn’t have things like special seating privileges in the front of the bus for certain groups of people and the others have to go to the back? Because..umm…ooops….

      Not that I am against them, and I’m the type who will give up my seat for someone elderly or noticeably needing one more then me. I did not ask for a temporary disability permit when I broke my leg, because I could get around well enough. I just had to make some allowances. But much like the frustration of suing for minor inconveniences, there is also that which comes from people wanting equality, unless of course they benefit from getting something extra. This from generally all types of people.

  10. While McDonald’s has a right to close the dining room and only offer drive through service after a certain hour, it might be good for business to include an alternative to drive through where possible. Such as a walk up kiosk, or a phone on the wall. This incident yesterday afternoon in Louisville, Ohio, shows exactly why you don’t want people, even employees, in the drive through lane. http://www.cantonrep.com/article/20160602/NEWS/st_refDomain=www.facebook.com&st_refQuery=

  11. They don’t want walk upon service at the drive thru, fine, but the bigger question is why do they have braille menus at the drive thru?

  12. I cannot get away from the thought that this whole thing may be a product of a financial plan by the attorney involved, and Mr McGee merely a pawn. The settlement in a class-action suit can be quite rewarding to an attorney.

    Not long ago I saw on some news show that a drive-thru had changed, or installed, a police officer banning people on horses from using the drive-thru. Obviously a rural setting… but apparently some the other customers had issues with the horses’ “leavings”….

    Nothing that impacts less than 10% of the population should be covered by these laws.

    • If you are right, it’s a longshot. How large do you think the class of “late night munchies blind people within walking distance of a McDonalds who have nobody to drive them” is? My guess: not much of a class, and not much damages even if the action is successful.

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