In my native state of Massachusetts, in the coastal town of Swampscott, home of Boston Red Sox tragic hero, the late Tony Conigliaro, comes a story where every element represents an ethics breach. The victim is being made the villain, the villain the hero. As I tell the tale, the faint refrain of “The World Turned Upside-Down,” the song the band played when General Cornwallis surrendered to General Washington, should echo in the background.
What is it about restaurants that generate so many ethics messes? This one occurred at Mission on the Bay, an upscale waterside eatery that serves food with a Brazilian and Asian influence. Selectman Donald Hause was dining with a friend in the outdoor dining area, and bartender Erik Heilman was eavesdropping, what people are doing when they say later, “I couldn’t help but overhear.” Heilman heard Hause criticize Black Lives Matter, allegedly saying that the group was “liberal bullshit,” and making the case that white privilege was a myth.
What the Selectman said, short of planning a crime, was none of Heilman’s business; nonetheless, the bartender says he was “distraught” at the comments, and so he posted what he heard or thought he heard to a local website, because he wanted to “inform” the community about the thoughts of an elected official. Hause disputes his account, but it doesn’t matter, and I don’t care what he said. Heilman’s conduct was unethical no matter what was said, or whether his post was accurate or not. Customers at a restaurant should, indeed must, be able to depend on the discretion and confidentiality of the staff. The bartender’s actions were a betrayal of his duties to the restaurant and its patrons.
We know Heilman’s rationalization for doing what he did springs from the totalitarian strain in what Commentary Magazine has called “the great unraveling.” Dissent from the Black Lives Matter and its supporters’ anti-American narrative will not be tolerated, and those resisting the mob, the movement’s mission dictates, must be exposed and destroyed.
Heilman was fired, as he should have been. Mission on the Bay co-owner Wellington Augusto explained the decision on Facebook:
Hospitality is about welcoming people and giving them space to feel comfortable. There has always been an unspoken code in the hospitality industry, that customers’ personal conversations and information are kept private. In the age of social media, that code is no longer unspoken but an agreed upon understanding outlined in the employee handbook of Mission On The Bay. “Employees may not post any information online about our group, our employees or clients without the prior approval of their manager.”
All guests entering are entitled to a certain level of privacy from our staff. While we are a “public” space by definition; our employees are expected to respect such privacy. At the end of the day we cannot allow our staff, while actively working in our establishment, to post information about our guests online without permission. This is true for everyone – be they public figures or otherwise.
That is where the story should have ended. Despicably, however, the mob got to the owners, and they was intimidated into groveling after various patrons said they would boycott the restaurant. “Out of frustration caused by the post by my employee, Erik Heilman, I took action too quickly and let go of him rather than engage in conversation and speak with him about his concerns,” Augusto wrote. “This was a mistake; as we can not hope to learn from one another by acting out of anger or in haste.” He even offered Heilman his job back.
Firing the bartender was not a mistake; it was the only responsible act possible, and backtracking in the face of ill-reasoned criticism was craven and destructive. The story gets worse still: Augusto also announced that—are you ready?—Don Hause would be banned from the restaurant.
Here is the entire, revolting Facebook post:
It’s an indefensible post and position:
- So now what should be is that diners must be on notice that their private conversations are considered fair game for restaurant employees to listen to and publicize to the community. That is the “new way” that the owner is promoting. Anyone who voluntarily dines at a restaurant with that philosophy is a fool, and aiding and abetting the death of free speech and privacy.
- The lack of basic logic in the post demonstrates that it is the product of duress. The owner’s argument makes no sense, but he is asserting it anyway as if it does, out of fear and submissiveness.
- Firing the bartender was mandated by basic professional standards, fairness to the public, and decency. Heilman was wrong: the owner had nothing to “learn” from him.
- The bartender was not “right” by any stretch of the imagination. He is free to start any dialogue he chooses, but he is not free to abuse guests of the restaurant or defy the duties of his job to do it.
- “Starting a dialogue” is a euphemism and a cover-phrase: anything can start a dialogue. Farting in the Selectman’s face would start a dialogue. That doesn’t make it acceptable conduct.
- Heilman is fighting to hold officials responsible for their words “at all times”? That’s an endorsement of thought and speech police. The concept should be terrifying: basic Golden Rule principles mark the idea as abhorrent, yet Augusto is endorsing it.
- Banning Hause is no less than imposing a political viewpoint requirement on patrons of his establishment, a practice Ethics Alarms has condemned many times as a threat to the pluralistic society the United States of America is supposed to be.
Now there is a movement in Swampscott to recall Hause. There should be a movement to declare Mission on the Bay a threat to democracy, liberty, and civil society.