The Unappreciated Home Depot Hero

It’s more exciting than you think!

Ethics Alarms has dealt with this issue multiple times: an employee violates policy by intervening to prevent a crime or serious injury, and is fired for it.  In 2009, a bank teller named Jim Nicholson turned Batman and foiled a bank robbery, then was fired.. A would-be robber had pushed a black backpack across the bank counter to Nicholson and demanded money. The teller threw the bag to the floor, lunged toward the man and demanded to see a weapon. The robber sprinted for the door with Nicholson in pursuit. Eventually Bat-Teller  knocked the man  to the ground and held him until the police arrived.

The bank had to fire him. The episode could have gone wrong many ways, some resulting in bank customers and employees being injured or killed. Law enforcement repeatedly cautions against such conduct, and the bank’s policies were clear.

In other cases, no-tolerance makes no sense, as no-tolerance often does. In 2012, Ryan Young, then working in the meat department of a Safeway grocery store in Del Rey Oaks, California, witnessed a man beating a pregnant woman, apparently his girlfriend. Young told the man to stop, but when he continued with his assault, shoving and kicking her, Young jumped over his counter, pushed the thug away, and ended the attack.

Safeway fired him. So what would it have had Young do, stand there and wag his finger? This crossed into duty to rescue territory. Young did the right thing, and rather than blindly following a policy that didn’t fit the facts, Safeway should have realized that an exception was called for.. (Eventually public opinion and bad publicity forced Safeway to re-hire the hero). A similar scenario involved a lifeguard who violated his employer’s policy by saving a drowning man off a beach adjacent to the property where he was stationed. Jeff Ellis Management, an Orlando, Florida-based company, fired  21-year-old Tomas Lopez for daring to save a life pro bono, and was similarly pilloried by public opinion. Two lifeguards quit in support of Lopez, and he was also eventually offered his job back. Lopez told Jeff Ellis Management to get bent, or words to that effect. Continue reading

Policies Don’t Fix Unethical Professors

“Here is your assignment, class: Vote for who I tell you to.”

I saw this story and decided it was too obvious to write about. A community college math professor distributes to her class a pledge to vote for Obama and the Democratic slate, and demands that the students sign it—come on! Is anyone going to defend that as ethical? Then a reader sent me several links to the item (thanks, Michael), and after reading them, I was moved to reconsider.

The professor, Sharon Sweet, was put on unpaid leave pending an investigation; I can’t fault Brevard Community College (in Florida) for not firing her yet. What troubles me is the college’s statements that her conduct is just a breach of policy. BCC Spokesman John Glisch told the press that “The college takes this policy [prohibiting employees from soliciting support for a political candidate during working hours or on college property] extremely seriously. It is very important that all of our faculty and staff act in that manner at work and while they’re on campus.” So college provosts are reminding employees about the policy.

Let’s be clear. Associate Professor Sweet’s conduct was an abuse of power and position, an insult to the autonomy of the students and an attempt to take away their rights as citizens, disrespectful to them and the values of the nation, and an attempt to circumvent election laws and to subvert democracy. It was also, quite possibly, illegal. If a college needs to have a policy to stop teachers from behaving like that, it is hiring the wrong kinds of teachers—individuals whose ethics are those of totalitarian states, and whose respect for individual rights are nil. This was an ethical breach of major proportions, not a policy misunderstanding. No teacher should require a policy to tell her that this conduct is indefensible and wrong. Continue reading

Twitter Ethics: The Guy Adams Affair

Twitter has come under fire from ignorant free speech advocates—essentially the same people who accuse me of “censorship” when I refuse to allow an anonymous comment, in violation of Ethics Alarms policies, on my own blog —because it removed a journalist Guy Adams’ account after he violated Twitter’s privacy rules by tweeting the email address of NBC executive Gary Zenkel over various Olympics coverage controversies. The main complaint is that apparently someone at Twitter notified Zenkel and alerted him to the process whereby he could get the tweet and the account taken down according to Twitter’s policies. Here is a representative reaction, from blogger Matt Honan at Wired:

 “Here’s an interesting thought experiment. Imagine that instead of going after an NBC executive, Adams’ target was a dictator. Imagine that Adams tweeted, say, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s email address, along with a call to action to protest his policies. Had Twitter worked back-channel with the Syrian government, showing it how to have Adams’ account taken down on a technicality, it would clearly be an indefensible act of censorship. Heads would roll.”

Heads might roll, but Honan is wrong. It would not be “an indefensible act of censorship.” It would not be censorship at all. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Safeway…Ethics Hero: Ryan Young. Justice? Waiting…

“You’re suspended, Kent.”

I’ve asked many times on Ethics Alarms why so many Americans stand by, inert and passive, when a fellow citizen is in peril.  Maybe the stunning ethics blindness exhibited by Safeway in a recent incident is part of the answer.

Ryan Young, who works in the meat department of a Safeway grocery store in Del Rey Oaks, California, was on the job when he witnessed a man beating a pregnant woman, apparently his girlfriend. Young told the man to stop, but he continued with his assault, shoving and kicking the her.  Young jumped over his counter, pushed him away, and ended the attack.

His reward was to be suspended without pay. Safeway has a policy that directs employees to summon security personnel and not to personally intervene when they see a crime or fight in progress. Even though police confirm that Young may have saved the woman and her unborn child from serious injury, the company is insisting that Young’s conduct warranted discipline, not praise. Continue reading

A “Naked Teacher Principle” Spin-Off: “The Case of the Naked Football Coach”

If it's any consolation, Coach Withee, George Costanza sends his sympathies.

With the notable exception of the high school art teacher who moonlighted on the web as an artist that painted pictures using his butt and genitals while wearing a paper bag over his head, most victims of the “Naked Teacher Principle”(TNTP for short) have been females.  [You can read the initial exposition of the principle here. “To put it in the simplest possible terms, a responsible high school teacher has a duty to take reasonable care that her students do not see her in the nude. It’s not too much to ask.”] This time, however, the naked teacher was not only male but the football coach. And, as the merciless Principle demands, he’s out of a job. Continue reading

Comment of the Day #2, On the Pointless Marriage of Bert and Ernie

Marrying a puppet is illegal in all 50 states, plus the Dictrict of Columbia.

This is where maintaining integrity and consistency becomes tricky.

Obviously the Comment of the Day suggests only one, yet for some reason this particular day has generated an unusual number of contenders, all deserving. If I refuse to highlight any of these because a Comment of the Day was already posted, I am obscuring important content to maintain a rule, in a situation where the rule doesn’t have any benefits.

But if I have more than one “Comment of the Day,” that creates a precedent and suggests that the designation is more of a formal verdict on comment quality than it is meant to be.  I simply do not, and do not have the time to, give Comment of the Day status to every deserving post. One is usually plenty, and will remain so. But it is foolish, and a contradiction of the principles I argue for on Ethics Alarms, to withhold recognizing a valuable comment for no reason other than an admittedly arbitrary limit.

So here is Comment of the Day #2, on what I will, for this time only, designate as Comment of the Day Friday, as Jeff is inspired by the discussion of bigotry in the continuing discussion generated by Enzo and the Contessa, to weigh in on a particularly stupid news story, the appeal by some gay marriage advocacy groups to have Bert and Ernie, of Sesame Street, tie the knot…if gay marriage is legal on Sesame Street.

(Yes, I know: this is a Comment of the Day on a Comment of the Day on a Comment of the Day. Curse you, Jeff!) Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Death of Ryamond Zack”

The story about the Alameda firefighters and police, as well as many citizens, standing useless on the shore as a suicidal man slowly drowned continues to receive  outstanding commentary. Here is the most recent, from Peter, doing some follow-up and pointedly critical analysis: 

“ABC asked Alameda Fire Division Chief Ricci Zombeck  whether he would save a drowning child and he said: “Well, if I was off duty I would know what I would do, but I think you’re asking me my on-duty response and I would have to stay within our policies and procedures because that’s what’s required by our department to do.”

“This quote essentially makes any indefensible defenses, or apologetics for how big and scary the victim was, moot. Perhaps they should make off-duty the new on-duty by assigning first responders to permanent off-duty roles. At least then they would go in after a drowning child. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Death of Raymond Zack”

Raymond Zack

Buck Best, a Northern Virginia firefighter and supervisor, weighs in with his expert perspective and nuanced insight regarding my post on the Alameda, Cal. incident involving a suicide by drowning. His wife Lianne had another Comment of the Day earlier this week; if this keeps up, I will have to call the feature “Best Comment of the Day.”

“As an 18 year veteran of the Fire Dept. and the last ten years as the Officer of a Technical Rescue team that would be responsible for just such a rescue, let me offer another perspective to this ethical question. The Fire service much like many other organizations in recent history are governed by politics and litigation. The management of the organizations are always looking to the risk analysis of any potential situation based of the money that is available. The risk analysis is not based as much on the physical risk as it is on the financial or political risk. Continue reading

Flashback: “What Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax Can Teach America”

The Late Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax

[Not many people were checking in on Ethics Alarms when I wrote this post in response to yet another example of bystanders choosing to do nothing when a human being was in peril. Some of the comments to the Alameda post, those making excuses for the 75 faint-hearted or apathetic citizens in that city who would rather gawk at a tragedy than try to stop it,  caused me to recall the essay, which explores related issues.  I wrote it, but I had nearly forgotten about the story; when I re-read it today, I got upset all over again.Here, for the second time, is “What Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax Can Teach America.”]

The one with the premium-grade ethics alarms bled to death on the sidewalk. The people who never had theirs installed at all took pictures. Is this the way it’s going to be? Continue reading

The Death of Raymond Zack: No Heroes, Only Bystanders

50-year-old Raymond Zack waded into the surf on an Alameda, California beach and stood calmly in the 54-degree water, apparently waiting to die. His suicide took nearly an hour, but eventually he drowned, with no rescue attempts from any of the 75 San Franciscans who gathered on the shore to watch the entire tragedy.

Why didn’t anyone try to rescue the man?

Apparently it was because nobody was paid to do it. You see, stopping Zack from killing himself wasn’t anyone’s job.

The media’s focus in reporting yet another disturbing incident with echoes of the murder of Kitty Genovese has been exclusively on the inert Alameda police and firemen who witnessed Zack’s suicide. “Fire crews and police could only watch,” wrote the Associate Press.

What does the AP mean, “they could only watch”?  Were they shackled? Held at gunpoint? Were all of them unable to swim? They didn’t have to watch and do nothing, they chose to watch and do nothing, just like every one of the bystanders who weren’t police or firemen chose to be passive and apathetic when saving a life required action and risk. Continue reading