Ethics Alarms, Shaming, and Clarifying the Audrie Pott Tragedy Post


There I go again…

I prefer to let arguments over what I write, mean and imply in the posts here resolve themselves in the comments; after all that’s the point of my writing them. I don’t like to write clarifications and re-considerations, and have posted very few. That is not to say that every post is a polished gem and perfectly articulates the often complex and contentious observations I’m attempting to make…far from it. Virtually everything I write would benefit greatly from being able to take the time to review it, think about it, run it by a few trusted colleagues, re-write it a few times, and post it a day or two later. I know that.  I write quickly, often in one draft, trying to keep up with a dynamic and diverse topic with a balance of quantity and quality I have time to deliver. It’s a trade off, and one that, fortunately, a passionate and articulate group of readers help make work.

For several reasons, the post “Audrie Pott, Web-Shaming And Moral Luck” has sparked confusion and discord, and I will accept the responsibility for that. Not every post works. Often, regular readers will note, I will choose a current event to use to highlight an ethics issue that is not the one most people are focusing on—sometimes this has yielded a very good post, and other times, I don’t quite pull it off. The danger is always that by not focusing on the primary issue, I will unintentionally send the message (to some) that I don’t think it still is an important issue, or that what I have chosen to write about instead is more important. That happened with this post. Continue reading

Audrie Pott, Web-Shaming And Moral Luck

Audrie Potts, in a photo she didn't mind others seeing, in a way she wouldn't mind being seen

The late Audrie Pott, in a photo she didn’t mind others seeing, in a way she wouldn’t mind being seen

Before we consider the tragic story of Audie Pott, let’s return to an earlier, certainly less tragic tale, that of the annoyed Applebee’s waitress who posted on Reddit an ungenerous female pastor’s obnoxious scrawl on her meal receipt, apparently refusing to tip the pastor’s server. Imagine that instead of demanding that the waitress be fired, the publicly humiliated pastor slit her own throat in despair and shame, but not before pinning a sad note to clerical robe reading, “I am so, so sorry! I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I am disgraced forever before my Church and my God, and my life is worthless.”

Presumably this result would have splashed a little cold water on the enthusiastic supporters of the vigilante web-shaming waitress, but it should not have. Either taking someone’s conduct, words or appearance that was not intended for public consumption and publishing it to the world, knowing they will be embarrassed, is ethical, or it is not. The fact that the victim of this treatment takes it unexpectedly hard, even irrationally hard, is irrelevant to judging its ethical nature. If you really think that the pastor deserved to have her stupid and mean note, intended,for only the eyes  one or two individuals, used to make her a nationwide pariah, then the fact that she killed herself over it shouldn’t change your view at all. “Too bad, but she had it coming,” should be your response.

Now let’s consider Audrie Pott, the victim in an ugly variation on the Steubenville rape. She was a 15-year-old Northern California girl who killed herself a week after three teenage boys allegedly assaulted her at a party while she was passed out, drunk. They violated her (though there may have been no actual rape), wrote crude things on her naked body and breasts, and took photographs. After the party, when Pott realized that the photographs, text-messages and e-mails describing her assault were circulating among her friends and others, she took to her Facebook page to write, “worst day ever….The whole school knows…My life is like ruined now.” A week later, she committed suicide. Three 16-year-olds have now been arrested on suspicion of sexual battery against Audrie, and the fact that their callous treatment of her culminated in her death has greatly intensified the public outcry against what they did. But it should not, in fairness and logic. If Audrie had been a hardier young woman, vowed the see the boys punished and resolved to learn from the incident and go on to a happy and productive life…indeed, even if her criminal mistreatment at the hands of these heartless young men proved to be a catalyst that propelled her to such a life, it wouldn’t make what they did any less miserable and heinous. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Chelsea Welch (The Applebee’s Train Wreck, Part Deux)

Chelsea Welch 2

Chelsea Welch: Hire at your own risk. You have been warned. By Chelsea, in fact…

I really, really didn’t want to revisit the tale about the cheap pastor, the self-righteous waitress, and Applebee’s. The comments on the original post here were illuminating, not in a good way, and were profoundly discouraging. The fact that so many people are incapable of getting past their biases against any business that has to enforce basic common sense policies on their employees is depressing; the fact that they embrace wholeheartedly the idea that a minor instance of poor judgment and conduct warrants permanent vilification on the web is alarming; and the widespread rejection of the principles of the Golden Rule is scary.

Unfortunately, Chelsea Welch, the fired waitress whom I once had some sympathy for despite the fact that her firing was 100% justified, has apparently seen fit to publish a letter, although there is no way to tell that it is really hers—the way this whole scenario has gone, it probably was written by the pastor who started the whole mess to make Chelsea look bad. If that was the objective, the pastor was wrong again, for a ridiculous percentage of the commenters think the letter is perfectly reasonable, meaning, of course, that they have the ethical sensibilities of 5th graders. The cruel reader who brought this to my attention actually read the comments on one site and tallied them: 1538 supporting Chelsea, only 20 that didn’t.


Nonetheless, Chelsea Welch reveals herself as an A-1 prime ethics dunce, the kind of person who will blunder along through life behaving unethically, causing little and large harms and discomforts to those she encounters, always thinking she is in the right, because she doesn’t have the foggiest notion of how one goes about determining what  right is.

Her letter is a classic of rationalization. Some highlights (the entire letter is at the end)… Continue reading

Comment Overview: “Mutual Destruction At Applebee’s: An Uncharitable Pastor and a Vengeful Waitress Do Each Other In”

This post is approaching an Ethics Alarms record for comments, and as always in the case when my commentary strikes a nerve, almost never on the most serious issues [This earlier post from yesterday, for example, is one that matters, and that I wish would get wider distribution, since I appear to be the only one making these points], the later comments tend to re-iterate the earlier ones, which have already been addressed, and I hate explaining the same thing over and over. Also the trolls have come out to urinate on everything, and I’ve had to ban a few, which I don’t like to do.

Therefore, as I have done before, here is a summary of the thrust of the comments and my replies, as well as over-all observations about the issue and conversation generally. I wish any commenter would read this before repeating what has already been said:

1. Nobody is defending Bell, the cheap and arrogant pastor. Good, but if the update you’ll find at the end is correct, she is considerably less despicable than everyone, including Welch, presumed.

2. One clown, however, wrote an abusive comment accusing me of defending the pastor, insulting my work and character based on that accusation, which made about as much sense as accusing me of being Marie of Rumania. I banned her, and also told her why in intentionally unkind terms. I’m not sorry.

3. It continues to amaze me how many people feel they have to comment on commentary—often in abusive and indignant terms– when they haven’t taken the time to read the post. Unbelievable.

4. I expected some readers to defend the actions of the waitress, but not as many as turned up.

5. I am grateful for the assistance of texagg04, affectionately known as “Tex,” who jumped into the fray late last night when I was trying to deflect attacks left and right. I owe you, bro.

6. Facts:

  • It is not against the law not to leave a tip.
  • It is not against the law even it is a so-called “mandatory tip.”
  • It is not against the law even if the mandatory tip is noted in the menu.
  • It is not legally theft.
  • It is unethical to leave an inadequate tip when the service was at least acceptable, as it apparently was at Applebee’s that fateful day.
  • It is not unethical to leave less than the expected tip if the service was poor.

7. A server, or a server’s colleague, has no right to take any negative action against a diner who unfairly leaves an inadequate tip. That is the restaurant’s choice alone.

8. Applebee’s did nothing wrong whatsoever. The large number of posts asserting that Applebee’s or eating establishments in general mistreat their employees, justifying conduct like the waitress’s web-shaming are manufacturing rationalizations. Even if true, and I have no evidence of that in this instance, that is irrelevant to Chelsea’s duties as an employee, and subsequent misconduct.

9. There is no way to ethically shame the pastor without the participation and approval of the restaurant.

10. There are three  problems with what the waitress did: 1) She worked for Applebee’s, and embarrassed an Applebee’s customer in a manner that involved the restaurant and that directly related to a patron’s visit there. That is employee misconduct, anywhere, no matter what the provocation. 2) She was engaging in vengeance, which is unethical—“tit for tat” conduct which is virtually always wrong.  3) The vigilante punishment was disproportional to the offense,

11. A restaurant does not have to specifically inform employees that taking unilateral action against restaurant patrons is a firing offense. That said, I’d be shocked if the employment manual didn’t include language broad enough to cover this incident. It didn’t have to say, “Don’t web-shame cheap customers.”

12. I think Applebee’s should ban Bell from eating at any of its restaurants. I said that in the post. But that does not mean that it should “show some spine” and endorse an employee unilaterally harming a patron in revenge. She was acting personally, but doing so in a way that reflected on her employers, involved them, and harmed them. No employer should be expected to tolerate that, and those who endorse such conduct are foolish.

13. Dumbest and most irritating ethics-free comment, repeated many times: “If you ever waited tables, you wouldn’t take that position! You don’t know what you’re taking about!” Translation: “I’m biased, because I’m a server, sympathize with servers, and can’t be objective. You can’t analyze this without being biased too.” The underlying ethical issues–vengeance, vigilante action, violation of duties to employers—have nothing to do with waiting tables, and apply the same way in other professions.

14. The expropriation and publication of data on a proprietary document belonging to the diner, Bell, and Applebee’s is per se  unethical conduct. There is no defense for it.

15. A diner does not voluntarily put herself in the public eye by what she writes on a check that is between her and the restaurant.

16. An interesting spin-off was raised by a vengeful waitress who defended Chelsea and said that when she was stiffed on a large bill, she informed the mayor of the town that the diner, a city lawyer, was plotting against the city with his meal companion. Even if he was, servers are professionally obligated to keep the contents of conversations they overhear confidential. If she had done this as a whistle-blower, it is ethically defensible. She did it to get even, which is not a justifiable reason, and the restaurant would be justified in firing her for doing it.

17. Yes, I sometimes have typos and other errors in my replies to comments. As regular readers know, I have them in my posts, too, though I am constantly cleaning them up. The typos in the comments are mostly due to the fact that I answer a lot of them, in addition to the fact that I can’t type or spell. This does not, as one commenter asserted, mean that I did not graduate from the schools I “claim” I did. And what makes you think graduates of those schools  necessarily proof-read any better than I do?

18. As for the web-shaming fans who argue that Chelsea’s act was virtuous because such evil conduct should exposed, and anyone who acts so disgracefully deserves to be held up to disparagement across the globe: None of us should want to live in a society where every mistake we make is at risk to be preserved forever online, warping the opinions that others form of us for the rest of our lives. In Europe, it is called “the right to be forgotten.” The Golden Rule applies, not that Pastor Bell would recognize it. This is a perfect example of the kind of minor lapse–it’s 7 lousy bucks!—that the elephant gun of public shaming should not be used against.

19. Novel (and bad) rationalizations: 1) Because the waiter collected money, he became a co-owner of Applebee’s. Ugh, no. He is the agent of Applebee’s, and still just an employee. 2) The bill wasn’t proprietary, because it wasn’t copyrighted of trademarked. Wrong. “Proprietary” also means “property belonging to someone,” and the someone wasn’t Chelsea. 3) Bell’s comment on the bill slip was directed at the waiter personally, so the retaliation was only personal too. Ridiculous. First, it is unclear that the comment was directed at the waiter at all; I’d say it was directed at the restaurant that mandated the 18%. But even if it was directed at the waiter, it was directed at the waiter in his capacity as an employee, not personally….not that it would justify retaliation even if it was intended personally. 4) Applebee’s has an obligation to support retaliation for “blatant abuse” or an employee being “taken advantage of.” This suggests that every time a waiter is given an unfair tip, the restaurant should support web-shaming. The “blatant abuse” was withholding a seven buck tip—not nice, but “abuse”? This wasn’t even why Chelsea posted the bill—it was what was written on it that outraged her, and that didn’t “take advantage of anyone.” That was just someone being a mega-jerk.

20. This is not a free speech issue.

21. The Applebee’s employee manual has plenty of provisions prohibiting Chelsea’s conduct.

22. If you are tempted to argue, as one commenter did, that my use of an Applebee’s menu as a background on a day when I am getting nothing but comments related to this post suggests that I am endorsing the restaurant or otherwise a shill for it, heed this warning: Don’t. There are some insults I won’t tolerate, and this is one of them. UPDATE (2/2): The Applebee’s menu background was scheduled to be replaced today, but I’m leaving it up in honor of the cognitively damaged commenters, currently numbering two–one banned and one likely to be—who have accused me of shilling for the restaurant.


UPDATE (2/1): Now it appears that the pastor left a tip in cash, and only complained about it on the slip. And that Applebee’s charged her credit card with the tip anyway, meaning that it owes her money. If true, this makes Bell far less of a villain, and also makes her complaint to the restaurant more justifiable. It also makes Welch’s conduct look reckless and unfair, further justifying her dismissal.

Mutual Destruction At Applebee’s: An Uncharitable Pastor and a Vengeful Waitress Do Each Other In


The Combatants!

  • Alois Bell, a pastor at Truth in the World Deliverance Ministries Church. Uncharitable, vengeful, arrogant and cheap, she complained about an autotip of 18% added to her Applebee’s check that was triggered by the size of her group. The bill was small, but the group was large. Crossing out the tip amount and replacing it with nada, she scrawled, insufferably, on the bill, “I give 10% to God, why do you get 18?”, thus stiffing the waiter whom the party later said had rendered impeccable service. She also scrawled “pastor” by the bill amount, thus presuming a clergy discount that didn’t (and shouldn’t) exist. After a waitress colleague of the un-tipped waiter posted the bill on Reddit to inspire some well-earned web-shaming, Bell complained to Applebee’s management, successfully getting the waitress fired.

Verdict: Contemptible jerk. She abused her position to claim a discount that she wasn’t entitled to, and punished an innocent server by withholding a fair tip. [This may not be so; see UPDATE at the end] Then she set out to take vengeance on the young woman for exposing her despicable conduct. So much for showing the other cheek. Bell’s conduct was as far from the teachings of Christianity as one can get, at least at an Applebee’s.

  • Chelsea Welch, the now ex-Applebee’s waitress. She posted the obnoxious bill and scrawled comments online, whereupon the pastor was identified by her handwriting, and perhaps her jerkish personality.

Verdict:  Unethical conduct, though provoked. Her colleague was wronged by the cheap pastor, but she forgot she wasn’t free to do as an Applebee’s employee what she might choose to do as a private individual. Applebee’s can’t have its customers worrying about whether real or perceived slights to restaurant staff will land them on various websites to be mocked and vilified. Her actions were irresponsible and a violation of her duties as an employee, even though her anger was certainly justified. And her method of retribution was excessive and unethical too. Continue reading