Mayor Menino, Chick-fil-A and the First Amendment

There may be more to say later, but I want to offer a few quick thoughts on Mayor Tom Menino’s declaration that he intends to keep Chick-fil-A out of Boston because of the company president’s opposition to same-sex marriage, as reported by Greg Turner of the Boston Herald.

Chick-fil-A has long been at odds with the LGBT community. But things got a lot worse this week, when company president Dan Cathy said, according to the Washington Post, that “we’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.”

That brought this response from Menino: “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.”

My gut reaction is that Menino is wrong. It seems to me that there wouldn’t be any end to this if government officials decided to approve or reject business licenses on the basis of their executives’ religious or political beliefs. There are First Amendment issues at stake as well. Can’t the head of a company say what he thinks without risking the wrath of the government?

Starbucks, as you no doubt know, has earned a lot of praise for its support of gay civil rights. There are plenty of municipalities out there whose officials might be tempted to deny Starbucks the right to operate inside their borders. And they could point to Menino for support.

Earlier this year my employer, Northeastern University, disinvited Chick-fil-A from opening in the student center after a number of people protested. I was among those who signed an online petition asking to keep Chick-fil-A off campus. But I see a huge difference between voluntarily inviting a business to operate on your private property, as would have been the case at Northeastern, and acting to keep a business off someone else’s private property, as Menino proposes to do.

Chick-fil-A has a serious issue on its hands, and it may well have to do some damage control that goes beyond the cosmetic. The San Jose Mercury News reports that residents in Mountain View, Calif., want to keep the chain out of their community. And we can expect to see a lot more of that.

Menino actually missed his best argument for keeping Chick-fil-A out. Restaurant executives apparently want to open in a tourist-heavy area along the Freedom Trail. If I were doling out food licenses in Boston, I would be very reluctant to hand over such a prime location to a business that is closed on Sundays.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

What Graham said in May about dwarfism case

Thanks to Media Nation commenter John Hall, I realized I could listen to Michael Graham’s earlier segment on Elsa Sallard, the woman with dwarfism who won a $75,000 anti-discrimination settlement from Starbucks last week. I couldn’t get the audio from the cached version of the page using Chrome, but when I switched to Safari, it came right up. So here’s Graham in a segment posted to iTunes on May 18 of this year:

Here’s the story. There’s a dwarf who wanted to work at the Starbucks in El Paso, Texas. But the dwarf got fired as a barista because, she claims, she’s a dwarf. Starbucks is denying it — quote, We definitely want to make it clear that we take all of these concerns seriously, we have zero tolerance for workplace discrimination — no, no, no! I want workplace discrimination. For example, I want the person who’s getting my coffee to be able to reach the actual coffee.

I am not anti-dwarf. I don’t have any strong feelings about dwarfs. I know there’s some people who are creeped out by dwarfs. Not me. No. Tall, short, big, fat, you’re just a person. If you can do your job, I am happy to pay you to do it. If you give me great service, I’m happy to get the great service. I don’t care if you have tats or not. As a customer, I don’t care if you’re a hulking giant or a dwarf. I just want my damn coffee. That’s all I want, is my damn coffee. And the idea that I’m going to have to stand in line for an extra 20 minutes while you skootch around taking care of the customers on your little ladder or stepstool or bucket or whatever — no, I’m sorry.

How many of you are with me, at 617-822-1969? Screw the PC. If I walk into Starbucks and there’s a line of 15 people deep and a dwarf, I’m out of there. I’m just gone. I’m not — [low voice] You know, we should all be — no! I’m sorry. I’ve got stuff to do. I’m going to go to the coffee shop that sells me coffee when I walk in the door, brought to me by people who can reach the damn coffee. This is not anti-dwarf. It is not bigotry. It is just — common-sensitry. I just want my stuff. That’s it. It’s that simple. So this woman’s suing, in the file of “people can sue for anything.” How can you possibly say that you can force me to hire you to do a job you can’t do because you can’t reach the buttons. OK?

At that point, Graham went off-topic slightly, praising the service at both Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, before returning to the matter of Elsa Sallard:

I’ve got to sit there and watch you step over your co-worker. [high, squeaky voice] Help me! Can you please help me? I can’t reach the mugs. You’re a dwarf! I’m not being mean. You’re just a dwarf. That’s all. I’m sorry. It’s not my fault. It doesn’t make you a bad person. I just don’t want to watch you climbing Spider-Man-like up to the fourth shelf to grab the cinnamon stuff for the cinammon coffee.

So that’s me, that’s my message to Dunkin’ Donuts, to Starbucks, to Shaw’s, to every other business out there. If you want me, Michael Graham, to be a customer, you have to hire people who can do the job that you have hired them to do. And if I show up and if I have to wait for the dwarf to pull out the stepladder and climb up? Bye. I’m gone.

After about four minutes, Graham switched to talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I stopped listening. Perhaps he returned to the topic, but that certainly seems like enough, no?

You should be able to listen for yourself here.

Updates on Michael Graham dwarfism segment

A few brief updates on the still-unheard Michael Graham dwarfism segment:

  • Apparently there was a fourth person on the air — a comedian who goes by Karl from New Hampshire, according to Media Nation commenter John Stewart. Although Stewart did not hear the segment, a commenter at Universal Hub says he (or she) did, and claims that it was Karl who made a “nasty joke” about the woman with dwarfism.
  • This is not the first time Graham has talked about the woman. Last May, when her complaint about being fired from Starbucks because of her height first became public, Graham did a segment that later got posted as a podcast on iTunes called “Not Grande Enough for Starbucks.” The description: “Starbucks fires a dwarf.” Kudos to Twitter follower @BEEBALM2010 for digging up the cached version of the page. Unfortunately, only the 30 most recent podcasts are available on iTunes.
  • Still no audio of the segment at WTKK’s website.

Will WTKK post audio of Graham dwarfism segment?

Felix Arroyo

My Saturday began with an email from a friend, who informed me that radio talk-show host Michael Graham of WTKK (96.9 FM) had had a good old time the day before making fun of a woman with dwarfism who’d won a $75,000 anti-discrimination settlement from Starbucks. (More about that here.) Graham’s guests were Rob Eno, publisher of the conservative website Red Mass Group, and Boston City Councilor Felix Arroyo.

My informant added that someone — it’s not clear who — made an alleged joke about serving food off the head of a dwarf waitress.

I hit Twitter and Facebook hard and got some results. Arroyo, about whom I’ve heard good things, said on his public Facebook page that he was the only one of the three to defend the woman, and he accepted my challenge to call on WTKK to post the audio of the segment. Nothing from ’TKK yet. The station posts one segment a day from Graham’s show, and the one from Friday is of something else. I’m guessing this isn’t happening, but we’ll see.

Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub picked up the story. Nothing from other media. I’d certainly like to see the Boston Globe cover it, and maybe there will be something tomorrow. Seems to me that both the original story and Arroyo’s statement are newsworthy. It would be nice if the Boston Herald covered it, too, but given that Graham is a Herald columnist, maybe not.

As you may know, Graham has a history of these things. Here is an exchange we had in 2007 over a dwarfism-related topic. I find it interesting that WTKK just promoted Graham to afternoon drive time in order to compete with Jay Severin, whom the station fired last spring for serial incivility, and who has now surfaced at WXKS (AM 1200). I guess the folks at ‘TKK think incivility is OK when it’s delivered in Graham’s high-pitched giggle rather than in Severin’s hateful sneer.

Starbucks shows how to mitigate a PR disaster

Yesterday I learned from Little People of America’s Facebook page that Starbucks had reached a $75,000 settlement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of a woman who was fired during training because of her dwarfism.

The Starbucks was located in El Paso, Texas. According to the El Paso Times, the woman, Elsa Sallard, was denied her request to use a stool or a stepladder, and was fired on the alleged grounds that she would pose a “danger” to others.

What made me curious was the low amount of the settlement. So I went back and saw that the folks at Starbucks corporate headquarters, to their credit, took this seriously from the moment they learned about it. In May, Starbucks spokeswoman Stacey Krum said the company had “zero tolerance” for discrimination, adding, “We definitely want to make clear how seriously we take the concerns that have been raised in the lawsuit.”

According to a statement by Robert Canino, a lawyer with the EEOC:

Starbucks’ swift action to work constructively with the EEOC in this case, not only by compensating the  applicant who was turned away, but by committing to additional training for  other stores in the El Paso  area, sends the right signal from the corporate office. The Starbucks customer environment is one  that is often considered comfortable and progressive. By fostering that same environment for people  behind the counter, Starbucks reinforces a positive public image.

In this case it looks like doing the right thing also saved Starbucks a lot of money.

Meet me at Starbucks

The best news to come out of the coffee chain in a long time is this, promising close-to-free WiFi something this spring. Currently I pay $10 to TMobile for 24 hours of access, which works at Starbucks and Borders. It’s not a bad deal if I know I’ll be able to return the next day and work for, say, five or six hours. Otherwise, it’s way too much.

I like to be a moving target, and now I’ve got several more places to move to in addition to Barnes & Noble, the library and a few indie coffeehouses I frequent. (Via Bits.)