The Surprise Return Of The Ethics Scoreboard, And “The Bank of America Teller and the Thumbless Customer”

Ethics Scoreboard

The Ethics Scoreboard was my first ethics website. It began operation in February of 2004, and became an archive on November 1, 2009, when Ethics Alarms took its place. For many years now—frankly, I’ve lost count—it has been unavailable on the Web because of an incompetent hosting service that took my money, took it down, and doesn’t permit any direct customer service contact. Last time I checked, the domain was unclaimed. I stopped looking for the Scoreboard because it depressed me, and I had hit a dead end in my efforts to get it back up.

Well, it’s back up, and I have no idea why or how. What a happy 2021 surprise! I suspect the original webmaster, my old friend Lauren Larson, is responsible, but if so, she never told me: I don’t even know how long the site has been live again. I learned about the resurrection from a wonderful man whom I met through the Scoreboard, Alek O. Komarnitsky, who sends out a holiday letter. This year, he wrote, “I am still on the Ethics Scoreboard!” and sure enough, there at the link was the last article I wrote about Alek.

There is a lot of material on the Scoreboard, some of which I am very proud of, and I thought it was all lost in cyberspace. For me, this is like finding a treasure trove of old family photographs in the attic. Thank you Lauren, thank you Alek, thank you incompetent hosting service, thank you whoever it was that did this! I will eventually get to the bottom of the mystery, but for now, I’m afraid to pinch myself to see if it’s a dream.

In celebration of the Return of the Prodigal Website, I now present one of the Scoreboard’s last posts, “The Bank of America Teller and the Thumbless Customer.”

Welcome back, Ethics Scoreboard! I really missed you.

The Bank of America Teller and the Thumbless Customer

You may have heard the story: a branch of the Bank of America in Tampa refused to cash a check for Hillsborough County public works employee Steve Valdez, because the bank required a thumbprint from non-account holders, and Valdez has no arms. No arms, no hands; no hands, no thumbs; no thumbs, no prints; no prints, no cash.

“Sorry sir; it’s bank policy!””

The various news accounts of this classic tale of bureaucratic idiocy concentrated on the fact that the bank was violating the American with Disabilities Act. Voila! This is how law obscures ethics. Would the bank’s actions have been any more reasonable, fair, caring, kind and responsible if there was no law? Why should anyone with a brain, a heart and a sense of humanity require a law to look at a man with no arms and decide, “Gee, I guess the thumbprint requirement doesn’’t apply in this case.” This isn’’t a legal matter. It’s an ethics question, and a really easy one, because the Golden Rule was invented for situations like this. If you were in the place of the thumbless man, Mr. Teller, what would you want someone in your position to do?

Nobody’s suggesting that the Bank of America should have suspended its policy out of pity or sympathy. This isn’t a bleeding heart argument: “Oh, the poor guy: he can’t hitch-hike or signal to a gladiator that he wants him to kill his opponent. I’ll cash his check to be a nice guy.” It has nothing to do with being nice. It has to do with recognizing when a policy is absurd in application, unjustly causing inconvenience and humiliation to another human being. Consider these dilemmas:

  • An attendant at a movie theater allows a patron to leave briefly to deal with an emergency. He returns to get back into the movie theater and join his family, but has somehow misplaced his ticket. Should the attendant, who recognizes him, refuse to let him enter?
  • A driver enters a parking garage, then has to leave a few seconds later because of a medical problem. Should the parking attendant insist that he still pay the full-day minimum fee? (This one got an attendant shot by Steve Buscemi in “Fargo,” you’ll recall.)
  • A woman, obviously ill, staggers into a restaurant and begs to use the rest room. The establishment has a “patrons only” policy for its use. Should it refuse her?
  • A student finds a knife in the hallway of a school, and immediately hands it over to the teacher. The school has a strict “no tolerance” policy on weapons, and the student is technically in possession of the knife: policy dictated that he not touch it, but alert an administrator. The teacher is certain that the student did not own the knife. Should the student be punished?
  • An adult dwarf on the Olympic riding team wants to buy a ticket on the carnival horse back ride to be with his child, but he doesn’’t come up to the height mark on the sign designed to screen out young children. Should the operator tell him he can’t ride?

Answers to the above: “No way,” “Certainly not,” “Never”, “No,” and “ Don’t be silly!” Policies can’t be perfect. Human beings have an ethical obligation not to stick to them when they result in outrageous consequences to others, and there is no counterbalancing benefit to be gained by doing so, other than not varying from the policy.

The teller should have asked for sufficient identification to satisfy himself that Valdez has a valid check. Valdez had it: he had his driver’s license with an address matching his wife’s on the check. That’s what the would have wanted, reasonably, if he was the one with no arms. And there was absolutely no reason not to bend the rules. The ADA wasn’’t necessary to solve this. People need to know when to consider the impact of their conduct on others when there are no laws involved.

Any individual, and any bank, that needs a law to remind them not to insist on a thumbprint from a man with no thumbs is ethically impaired, and has no common sense. And having no common sense is a much greater handicap than having no thumbs.

30 thoughts on “The Surprise Return Of The Ethics Scoreboard, And “The Bank of America Teller and the Thumbless Customer”

  1. Congratulations! You might want to save those posts to your computer ASAP, just in case this is a temporary revival, though.

    • A.M. Golden wrote, “You might want to save those posts to your computer ASAP, just in case this is a temporary revival, though.”

      I completely agree!

      I save a copy of absolutely everything I write online because there is no telling how long these things will be accessible.

    • There is something wrong with the blog text, I think the little squares are supposed to be punctuations marks.

      ““Gee, I guess the thumbprint requirement doesn’’t apply in this case.” This isn’’t a legal matter.”

      ““No way,” “Certainly not,” “Never”, “No,” and “ Don’t be silly!””

            • I just did some browser testing and looked at the actual code that’s displaying the page and there are some unusable characters in the text that came along with the punctuation when the text was copied and pasted in the new blog post. I tested four browsers and they all display it differently. I’m digging into the code to see if I can figure it out what’s causing it.

              • Could it be the font’s available on each persons PC? If someone doesn’t have a particular font installed sometimes you get this kind of symptom.

                • Not likely on modern computers.

                  There is an undefined CSS class in the code that’s called “fuqmfkm88eeo6rhho” that “could” be screwing things up.

                  Gotta remember that the code for the Ethics Scoreboard site is somewhere around 11 years old, that’s damn near ancient in coding terms unless you’re using Fortran.

              • There are definitely some untranslatable characters that come across with punctuation marks during the copy and paste from the Ethics Scoreboard that are being displayed in some browsers but not others.

                Here’s what I think is happening…

                Some modern browsers are still grandfathering what they would consider “errors” in older code and continuing to ignore things that do not properly translate in newer browsers, they basically skip right over that code when displaying the page. Other browsers are not doing the same kind of grandfathering and allow the untranslatable code to do whatever it ends up doing. This grandfathering will change. As time goes on this will be come more evident with older code because modern browsers are moving away from the older kind of code syntax and forcing the new “better” syntax and logic. Last year I had to upgrade my work website from php code written based on an older version of php to the updated version and it forced some unexpected syntax code changes to be able to work with the new php so my site wouldn’t “break”, it the server is running a new version of php you have to keep up with syntax and logic changes, it can be daunting sometimes.

                I noticed this happening in WordPress on a couple of things that I copied and pasted into a blog and simple fixed all the spots. The end all solution would be to not to copy from the text that is displayed from the older site in a browser and copy from the original text source – if that’s possible; otherwise, you might have to fix the errors by editing the text after you’ve checked it on something like Chrome or Opera which has already started weeding out what’s being grandfathered.

                • Microsoft Explorer never implemented half the rules for newer CSS and HTML. Chrome deprecates stuff. Firefox often has slightly different implementations than Chrome, as does Safari. I usually have to check every browser to make sure they all look the same.

                  • Best I can tell it’s all the apostrophe (‘) and quote (“) that are causing the problem. Note: that is from one single key on the keyboard. I wonder if the ASCII code from the keyboard you were using back then was different than on the newer keyboards, there were some weird keyboards floating around with different keys in different spots – they’re all standard now. I think programmers forced the keyboards that we see today putting the “/’ key where it is so it didn’t take multiple keys to get those characters in their code, those characters are use a LOT in coding. I think I remember that “/’ key being in a different spot on some early computer keyboards many years ago. Some of the old typewriter/keyboards had the quote character on Shift-2 and the apostrophe on Shift-8. I’m positive that the old TI-1000 computer I used around 1984 had a different keyboard layout for some keys than I was used to on a typewriter.

  2. Just for clarity, does the “Don’t be silly!” answer on the last hypothetical apply to the restriction, or the terribly contrived situation? (Here’s where I probably get told that this really happened 😉 )

  3. Any individual, and any bank, that needs a law to remind them not to insist on a thumbprint from a man with no thumbs is ethically impaired, and has no common sense.

    The bank should not be excused, but what about the employee?

  4. Jack, you obviously know about “strict liability”.

    Regarding the student who handed in a knife… if you get sent some kiddie porn , under no circumstances contact the police and hand it in. Not without lawyering up and getting a guarantee of immunity from prosecution for possessing it first.

    I had a subordinate do that. He lost his job, though his sentence was quite lenient, onky a few years, as it was obvious there was no mens rea. But posession is a strict liability offence in most jurisdictions. Anyone handing evidence over to the police in order to aid them in catching the baddies is automatically guilty of possession.

  5. I always wondered why Ethics Scoreboard was there like a zombie. I have a computer with an old bookmark and sometimes when I type in ‘ethi..’ it autocompletes to the Ethics Scoreboards site and brings it up.

    As far as the ADA goes, I guess that law is dead now? My aunt has severe asthma and can’t wear a mask without going into a coughing fit. She is not allowed to go to the doctor’s office without a mask, the ER without a mask, the grocery store without a mask. If is wasn’t for the ‘delivery everything culture’, she would have starved by now. She is horribly afraid she is going to need some kind of medical attention that she will be denied because of her asthma. They revoked the medical exemptions for the mask orders in her state. Executive orders to private citizens>ADA.

  6. Question about Ethics Scoreboard.

    Someone updated the registry of ETHICSSCOREBOARD.COM last year, looks like they renewed it.

    Updated Date: 2020-07-28T10:47:48Z
    Creation Date: 2000-06-10T16:18:25Z
    Registry Expiry Date: 2025-06-10T16:18:25Z

    Question: Did the registry of ETHICSSCOREBOARD.COM expire for a few years and someone just renewed it in July of 2020?

    Additional: After the renewal in July 2020, the domain registration doesn’t expire for about 5½ years – someone is paying something to keep this registration or it’s one of the free domain registrations that comes with a hosting service contract.

    • Funny, John, I find the new font too skinny. Makes me want to squint and look for more. Seems as if something’s missing. Maybe I’ll just move my computer up to 150% from 125% Who need large print books when you can enlarge things yourself with the push of a button. Hah.

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