A Smoothie Incident In Connecticut

After the now viral video above made the rounds, James Iannazzo, 48, was arrested and charged with a hate crime following the outburst at Robeks in Fairfield, Conn. over the weekend. The Fairfield Police Department said that Iannazzo returned to the store after a smoothie he purchased caused his son, who is allergic to peanuts, to be rushed to the hospital from his home. Iannazzo apparently ordered the smoothie without peanut butter, but did not explain to employees that his son had an allergy.

The New York Post says he called a staff member a “fucking immigrant.” The Times says he called her an “immigrant loser.”

After the Merrill Lynch office where Iannazzo works was swamped in furious emails, he was fired from his job as an analyst. A spokesman for Bank of America, the parent company of Merrill Lynch, told the New York Times in an email,

“Our company does not tolerate behavior of this kind. We immediately investigated and have taken action. This individual is no longer employed at our firm.”

“When faced with a dire situation for his son, Mr. Iannazzo’s parental instinct kicked in and he acted out of anger and fear,” the father’s lawyer said. “He is not a racist individual and deeply regrets his statements and actions during a moment of extreme emotional stress.”

There are many troubling aspects to the matter.

Ethics Observations:

1. Stipulated: the father’s reaction, particularly once it reached the point of him throwing a projectile at the hapless smoothie shop staff, was indefensible. He flipped out, and lost control. He’s lucky that he didn’t hurt anyone. However, he had every reason to be upset, whether or not he was sufficiently detailed in the reasons why the smoothie he ordered could not contain peanut butter. (What’s the theory here, that if a customer doesn’t emphasize that it’s really, really important not to include peanut butter, its no big deal if the order is ignored?) The fact that his son didn’t die was pure moral luck. If he had died, would all of the focus still be on the father for using that taboo word “immigrant”?

Oh, it probably would.

2. We don’t know what Iannazzo said, because YouTube and every other source I checked bleeped it out. Again, this is a stupid, stupid, practice, and in this case, may have helped get Iannazzo fired. I assumed from the video that he used a slur, like “nigger” or a misogynistic term favored by Bill Maher. If the exact language is relevant to the story, then don’t censor the language.

3. Iannazzo was charged with intimidation based on bigotry or bias in the second-degree, second-degree breach of peace and first-degree trespassing, the police said. Why? Because he said “Immigrant”? Since when is “immigrant” a hate crime marker? Was it “loser,” if that’s what he said? Or “fucking”?

I detest the whole hate crime concept, and this is bad even for that. It’s government censorship: using “fuck” is uncivil and unethical, but you can’t make it illegal. Is “immigrant” now hate speech because of his tone of voice? His mood?

4. I’m sure at the moment he said the dreaded “I-word” he did hate the employees, because he held them responsible for hurting his son. Hate is not illegal. It’s only illegal to hate on the basis of race or other characteristics when it leads to criminal conduct. That’s not the case here: he also would have hated anyone at that moment, blonde, blue-eyed, male of female. Turning this into a racial incident is anti-white guy bigotry.

That hate crime charge better be dropped, and if it isn’t, the ACLU should…oh, what am I thinking?

5. Standard business CYA practice dictated firing Iannazzo once the video was all over the web. However, assuming he had no other episodes like that and was otherwise a good and stable employee, Merrill Lynch would have been more ethical to give the guy a break. The Golden Rule applies: could you see yourself losing composure under those circumstances? If so, isn’t empathy and compassion in order?

6. A relatively minor point, but no establishment involving customer service should ever he left completely in the hands of inexperienced young workers who are not trained in handling complaints. I say this as someone who has frequently been driven almost to the Iannazzo Zone by clueless clerks who shrug off legitimate problems, show little interest in resolving them, and announce that no manager is available.


Pointer: Steve-O-In-NJ

Sources: New York Post, New York Times

6 thoughts on “A Smoothie Incident In Connecticut

  1. Was the clerk proficient enough in English to ensure that he could consistently understand (and communicate to others, if necessary, a customer’s order? Maybe his immigrant status really was a contributing factor in the harm done to the customer.
    (Considering the proliferation of serious food allergies, it would be negligent of the business if they failed to make sure that staff were aware of the importance of the issue and able to properly deal with it.)

  2. I’m curious why he focused on the employee’s nationality. It makes me wonder if he really did explain himself well enough and blamed the miscommunication on the worker’s poor language skills.

  3. My understanding of peanut allergies is that even the tiniest amount of peanut (1/100 of one peanut in some cases) can be enough to trigger a reaction. In other words, unless a smoothie shop has a duplicate set of equipment for non-peanut smoothies, a smoothie can’t be safely ordered from that smoothie shop for someone with peanut allergies. It’s entirely possible that the person who made the smoothie did so exactly as it was ordered (with no peanut butter purposely added).

    How is it possible for the father of someone with a peanut allergy to not know this?

    • I’m with you.
      There is most likely a disclaimer somewhere that peanuts are used in the restaurant and that all food served may contain traces.
      Even without a disclaimer to that effect, if this kid is so deathly allergic, the father should know better than to order anything anywhere before making absolutely sure food can be peanut-free/safe.
      At this time, though, accounts differ on how exactly the peanut allergy was communicated in the order.
      Either way, this guy was way out of line.

  4. Believe me, I’ve been driven almost into this zone a few times. However, I haven’t been stupid enough to lose it like this guy lost it and actually throw something at someone. You’ll know that the throwing of the smoothie was not the end of it, he was trying to force his way into the work area. What he would have done if he got there is anyone’s guess. However, I’m guessing it probably would have involved beating up somebody. Then the proverbial fan would really have gotten hit. A certain amount of anger was understandable, as a father of a son who was put in danger by clumsy action on the part of whoever made the smoothie, as well as a failure to follow instructions. However, and this is a problem that I have dealt with all of my life, the fact that you hit a red line with your anger does not absolve you from the consequences of what I can only describe as crazy behavior, nor of violence. I believe this isn’t just a matter of losing control. Any father I know would have been at the hospital with his son. The first thing that would have popped into any father’s mind that I know would not be to seek out the person whose error caused this problem so he could assault that person. It certainly would not be to spew profanity and insults that can be construed as racially charged. After the Central Park incident, which everyone is now well aware of, anyone who goes and spews that kind of talk is an idiot. You have to know that if you do that and it gets caught on camera, which it will, some serious personal and professional consequences will fall on you. Now this guy has lost his job and is facing criminal charges which could probably land him in jail. Please tell me how his son benefits from this? Who’s to say there might not be marital consequences too, as his wife realizes she is married to a potential violent psychopath who lets his anger blot out everything else?

    It just isn’t worth it. Criminal charges are a little bit over the top, although in this day and age where everyone is looking to show how anti-racist they are, it’s not surprising. Sorry is not surprising, if they fired that woman for misbehaving at Arlington National cemetery, which she deserved, I can certainly see termination for this kind of violent behavior. This is just a reminder to everyone who sees it, do not be “that guy.”

  5. deckhand_dreams made a very good point. I have a nut allergy but only went to the emergency room once in my life. It only takes a small amount and cross contamination is quite an issue. Even if the server did everything to ensure no peanuts or peanut butter was in the smoothie, unless you clean the machine there is a chance of cross contamination. This is why I won’t eat in a Thai restaurant even if they offered dishes without nut or nut content.

    I once ignored the minor warning on a gallon jar of animal crackers – “made in the same facility that uses tree nuts…” or something close to that. I ate a small handful of those animal crackers and within about 30 minutes I knew I was in trouble. As I got older my reactions weren’t as severe and I just have to stay calm and take a benadryl tablet.

    I have had several incidents over the years where cross contamination caused me to go into anaphylaxis. So, again, it may not be the server’s fault – I would think that the father would know this.

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