Tag Archives: law suits

Another Religious Freedom vs. Gay Rights Ethics Clash: The Country Mill Farms Farms Affair

Steve Tennes (above) and his devout Catholic family own  Country Mill Farms, Winery, Orchard and Cider Mill. in Charlotte, Michigan. The picturesque locale makes additional income by renting out the venue for weddings and events.

Last August, a visitor to Country Mill’s Facebook page asked if they hosted gay weddings at the farm. Tennes answered in the negative, explaining that his Catholic family believes marriage should be between a man and woman. The Tennes family sells its products at an East Lansing  farmers market, and that city’s officials were notified of their “no gay weddings” policy. A city ordinance  requires that participants in the market, even those not located within East Lansing city limits, have to agree with its non-discrimination ordinance.  “I think it’s a very strong principle that you should not be discriminating against somebody elsewhere and then come here and want to participate in our market,” East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas told the news media.

Lansing  officials urged (threatened?)  Tennes to comply with its ordinance, so the farm stopped hosting weddings of any kind for a while. Then Tennes decided to defy the order and announced on Facebook that the farm would resume hosting weddings, but only those involving a man and a women. In turn, the city told Tennes that his farm would not be welcome at the farmer’s market for the 2017 season.

“It was brought to our attention that The Country Mill’s general business practices do not comply with East Lansing’s Civil Rights ordinances and public policy against discrimination as set forth in Chapter 22 of the City Code and outlined in the 2017 Market Vendor Guidelines, as such, The Country Mill’s presence as a vendor is prohibited by the City’s Farmer’s Market Vendor Guidelines,” the city said in a letter to the family. Just coincidentally I’m sure,  East Lansing recently updated its civil rights ordinance to include discrimination at “all business practices” for participants the city’s farmers market. City Mayor Mark Meadows said the farm’s exclusion is based on the Tennes family’s “business decision” to exclude same-sex weddings. (Since the limitations on the weddings performed undoubtedly forfeits business, I have my doubts about whether the city can win the claim that it is a business decision and not a religious one.)

Now the farm is suing East Lansing. “Our faith and beliefs on marriage and hosting weddings at our home and in our backyard of our farm have nothing to do with the city of East Lansing,” Tennes said at a press conference last week “Nor does it have anything to do with the produce that we sell to the people that attend the farmers markets who are from all backgrounds and all beliefs.”

The suit asks the court to restore Country Mill Farms’ freedoms, stop East Lansing’s “discriminatory policy,” and award damages. The city claims its policy is in line with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling eliminating a ban on same-sex marriage.

My first comment: Yechhh. I’ll sure be clad when society is accustomed enough to same-sex couples that people stop treating them like they are viruses and other people stop bullying those who are slow to accept the cultural shift into submission.

I think East Lansing loses this lawsuit, or at least should.

At first it reminded me of this case, from 2014, where a family-run chapel was initially told by Coeur d’Alene, Idaho that it had to hold same-sex weddings. The city backed down, but the decisive issue in that case was that the chapel’s minister would be forced to do a ceremony that his religious beliefs didn’t permit. Forced speech is as unconstitutional as restricted speech, so the city eventually said, “Never mind!”

I wrote in part,

What’s next, legally requiring citizens to accept invitations to gay weddings? Make sure they get a nice gift? …It appears not to even occur to dedicated gay marriage rights activists that Americans can’t be forced to say what the good people think they should say, or support what the right people insist they should support. I happen to believe that same-sex marriages are good, and that legalizing them is right. Nonetheless, if you tell me I have to officiate at one of them or be fined, we have a problem. This kind of fascism from the left—and that’s what it is— forfeits the support of the fair, the moderate and the sane…Any advance in ethics can become a slippery slope to the unethical, and this is a good example. Personal autonomy still matters; freedom of belief is still an important right to respect and protect. Slippery slopes need sand, and this is an excellent example of why.

The ethics issue here is related, but different. This one reminds me more of the Chic-Fil-A controversy, when various mayors were announcing that because the company’s owner was a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, his business wasn’t welcome in their cities. I wrote (in part) about that ethics train wreck: Continue reading

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When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring: The Bad Date Lawsuit

No story is too stupid for Ethics Alarms!

I’m so proud.

In Round Rock, Texas, Brandon Vezmar took a woman out for a pizza and to see “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” , but she texted throughout the film and then left him sitting alone. He texted her, demanding that she  refund the cost of the pizza and the ticket, but she says she refused because “he took me out on a date.”. Now Brandon has filed a claim for $17.31 in small claims court.

Ethics Observations:

1. Brandon’s law suit can be translated as: “Look at me! I’m a big jerk!” I cannot imagine that he will be more successful finding dates in the future. And no wonder she abandoned him.

2. The lawsuit is an abuse of process. He will be lucky if he doesn’t get a dressing down from the judge.

3. Of course he should have let the incident go. This is custom, not contract. The date stunk. That’s a risk you take.

4. The woman, who remains un-named, is a rude jerk as well. She could and should have apologized quickly enough that Big Jerk didn’t have time to complain.

5. There is so much wrong with any two people who can’t locate the social skills and common sense to resolve a matter like this without resorting to the legal system, that it is a near certainty that they will engage in far worse conduct, doing real harm, in the future.

______________________

Pointer: Tim Levier

 

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Unethical Quote Of The Month: President Trump

“I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled. Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong. I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person.”

President Trump to the New York Times , speaking of the sexual harassment allegations intensifying around star Fox News Bloviator Bill O’Reilly.

Now President Trump is acting like President Obama. The President of the United States abuses his power and position by ever commenting upon or registering an opinion about matters that do not involve the national welfare or his direct responsibilities. These include local law enforcement episodes (Trayvon Martin, the arrest of an African-American professor in Cambridge by a white cop), employment matters, private lawsuits, pending criminal trials, TV shows (Saturday Night Live), media coverage (don’t get me started), legal business decisions and sports controversies (Colin Kaepernick). Obama never learned this (among other leadership basics, a problem fagged as “flat learning curve” on Ethics Alarms), and, not surprisingly, Trump is going to be even worse. Continue reading

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O’Reilly, Fox News, And Sexual Harassment…AGAIN

Bill O’Reilly’s five accusers…so far.

I saw an online article that called Bill O’Reilly the “Bill Cosby of Fox News.” That’s not entirely fair: O’Reilly is likely just a serial sexual harasser, whereas Cosby is a rapist. Then again, they are both named “Bill,” and there are other similarities. Both have paid hush money to accusers, both have had a series of accusations made against them by women, the watermark of the sexual harasser (though Bill Cosby, so far, is way ahead in that category), both angrily deny the charges against them, and both have indignant defenders.

Both also are probably sociopaths.

Is it possible that Cosby has been wrongly maligned? Let me think…NO. Of course not. Over 50 women (what is the current count now?) do not accuse the same innocent man of sexual assault. Is it possible that the other Bill is a victim, not a predator? My “no” here isn’t quite as emphatic, perhaps, but…no. The New York Times piece yesterday thoroughly covers the evidence, and the odds against  all this being meaningless boggles the mind: Continue reading

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Candy Packaging Ethics: How Much Air Can A Candy Box Contain Without Being Deceptive?

Peeps Manufacturing

Stephanie Escobar is suing the makers of “Mike and Ike,”  claiming that it is misleading customers by filling nearly half the box with air rather than candy. She bought a box of “Mike and Ike” for  $4 at a Los Angeles movie theater, and was stunned  to find that  46 percent of the it  was filled air, what is known in the business as “slack-fill.”  She checked a box of Hot Tamale candy sold by the same company, and there was only 54% candy in that box too, disappointing her greatly.

Her suit argues candy maker “Just Born Quality” Confections is violating California’s false advertising law, unfair competition law and the consumer legal remedies act.

(This is a separate movie candy ethics issue from the apparently obscene $4 price, much on my mind since on my recent visit to the the theater to see “Fences,” a drink, hot dog and popcorn cost me $19. 85. Movies charge those prices to keep the prices of tickets down, and in the aggregate, that is better for consumers and the theater than charging 20 bucks for the movie and half as much for the junk food.)

Just Born vice president Matt Pye promised a vigorous defense to the “baseless allegations.”“Our products and labels comply with all FDA regulations and provide consumers with the information they need to make informed purchase decisions,” Pye said in a statement.

That rather ducks the issue, doesn’t it? How often have you been shocked that a container is mostly air? Many products, candy notable among them, have been reducing the size of the product sold rather than raising the price. That is fair enough, if one can see what one is purchasing. A box, however, doesn’t permit a consumer to see what’s inside. The argument that the labels are compliant isn’t the same as proving that it’s ethical to have a container that’s twice as large as the the contents require.

Fortunately, I’ve always hated Mike and Ike. AND Hot Tamale. But now I’m wondering about my Raisinettes…

____________________________

Pointer: ABA Journal

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The 8th Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2016, Part 1

bad-2016

Welcome, if that’s the word, to the 8th Annual Ethics Alarms Awards.

Last year, in a burst of self-pity as I began this annual task, I wrote,

“It is depressing and discouraging: 2015 was much worse than 2014, which was considerably worse than 2013. What am I doing here? What is the point of spending all of this uncompensated time—it is more profitable bagging groceries!—trying to nurture a more ethical culture and a more ethically competent public when all evidence points to utter futility as the result? Well, that way madness lies, I guess. I’m just going to grit my teeth and do my duty. Last year I began by saying that 2014 was the year of the Ethics Train Wreck. There were far more of them in 2015, and they were more serious and damaging. That should give you sufficient warning of the horrors to come…”

Then came 20i6.

To paraphrase  Margo Channing, “Fasten your seatbelts: It’s going to a bumpy post…”

Ethics Train Wreck of the Year

train-wreck-air

The Hillary Clinton E-Mail Scandal Ethics Train Wreck

I thought last year was the Year of the Train Wreck. Wrong. In 2016, we had the 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck, the Campus Sexual Assault Witch Hunt Ethics Train Wreck, the Freddie Gray Ethics Train Wreck, the old stand-by Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck, the still active Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck, and the Ethics Train Wrecks of both Presidential candidates campaigns. Hillary’s e-mails and their related lies in the long trail of cars called the Hillary Clinton E-Mail Scandal Ethics Train Wreck, was a clear winner though.

Passengers included President Obama, Bernie Sanders, Anthony Weiner, the F.B.I., Loretta Lynch, Bill Clinton, James Comey and more. And, of course, it played a significant and perhaps decisive role in bringing us President Trump.

Runner-Up: 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck. It had less than a month to get up steam, but it caused lots of ethics carnage, and is still going strong.

Fraud of the Year

The Trump Foundation, which revealed itself to be a near total sham. RUNNER-UP: Fake lawyer Kimberly Kitchen, who worked as an estate planning lawyer at BMZ Law in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, and served as president of the county bar, though she never went to law school, and never took the bar exam, but forged documents to fool everyone that she had.

Most Unethical Act By A Major Church

The Catholic Church, which, incredibly, restored a convicted rapist to the priesthood. Father Joseph Jeyapaul,  a Catholic priest from India, while serving in the Crookston, Minnesota diocese from 2004 to 2005 raped at least two adolescent girls.  After being charged with the crimes, including rape and forcing at least one of his victims to perform fellatio on him, Father Joseph  escaped to India, where an Interpol warrant got him extradited back to Minnesota.  There he confessed, and as part of a plea bargain, received an outrageously light sentence of a year and a day for pleading guilty to one count of molestation. Jeyapaul was suspended from the priesthood and served his time in Minnesota. The U.S. deported him back to India, while the Minnesota diocese had to pay millions in a civil lawsuit, during which we learned that the rapist priest had told one of his victims  in the confessional that she was at fault, and had made Jeyapaul “impure” by letting him abuse her. In February, the Vatican lifted Jeyapaul‘s suspension and restored him to the priesthood. It then assigned him to a new parish in India, where he is now the diocesan head of its commission for education. 

Tell me again why that fake news story that the Pope endorsed Trump was supposed to help The Donald.

Incompetent Elected Official of the Year

kkane

Kathleen G. Kane (D), Pennsylvania’s ex-Attorney General.  In October, a judge sentenced her to 10 to 23 months in prison for her conviction on charges of perjury and abuse of her office. You can’t be more incompetent, I’d say, than an elected attorney general who can’t stay out of jail herself. I regret not writing about the Kane saga last year, but her ethical void was fairly apparent back in 2013, the only time I did write about her, after she leaked grand jury testimony, which is illegal. I wrote at the time (I must have been in a bad mood)…

“Leaking grand jury testimony is both illegal and spectacularly unethical for a lawyer, yet Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, appears to have done it for the slimiest of reasons, and is offering the most cynical of defenses in the most offensive of ways. (Incidentally, I don’t understand how this could happen. After all, Kane is a woman, the first Democrat and the first woman to be elected to the post, and since having a vagina alone is supposed to imbue a candidate with trustworthiness, surpassing competence and virtue, this makes no sense at all.)”

Unethical Elected Official of the Year

Continue reading

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From The “Law vs. Ethics” Files: A Westin Hotel Comes To The Nuisance

nookwestin

The photo says it all.

In Austin Texas, Westin  opened a large hotel next to the Nook Amphitheater, which is famous venue for live music in a city with a strong music culture  Westin is now suing the Nook because its music is disturbing the guests. The complaint states that the Nook plays “chest thumping bass” seven nights a week until 2 a.m. making some rooms uninhabitable.and thus harming the hotel’s business.

Law professor and invaluable ethics story source Jonathan Turley notes that the case recalls the now defunct “coming to the nuisance” doctrine.  The defendant in such a case once could move to dismiss a nuisance claim on grounds that the plaintiff moved next door only to challenge the activities, business and even the existence of it neighbor in court.  Turley writes,

The doctrine originated in early common law with cases like Rex v. Cross, 172 Eng. Rep. 219 (1826).  The Court held:

“if a certain noxious trade is already established in a place remote from habitations and public roads, and persons afterwards come and build houses within the reach of its noxious effects; or if a public road be made so near to it that the carrying on of the trade becomes a nuisance to the persons using the road; in those cases the party would be entitled to continue his trade, because his trade was legal before the erection of the houses in the one case, and the making of the road in the other.”

American courts found the doctrine to hinder growth and work against the common good, particularly as populations in cities expanded into rural areas.  

But, Turley explains, even in the absence of the “coming to the nuisance” defense, defendants have had some support from the courts: Continue reading

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