Thursday, September 30, 2010

Will Just Cookies and Would Be Customers Work To a Positive Resolution?

For those not in the know, there are links at the end of this post to other blog posts on this subject. They can direct you to the relevant news reports.

The summary is a representative of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis wanted to purchase cupcakes from Just Cookies, a business located in the publicly owned Indianapolis City-Market. The would-be customer must have mentioned it was for an organization on campus honoring National Coming Out Day. "Coming out" or the more full term "coming out of the closet" is when those who identify as part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered community reveal it to others, such as family and friends. Maybe the business owner noticed payment with an IUPUI credit card, or maybe it was bought up in casual conversation. The news reports don't really say how the subject was breached, but it was.

The business owner then said that he objects to the cause on a moral basis, citing his family and two daughters.

Later news reports describe Get Equal, an organization advocating for LGBT equality, attempting to buy chocolate chip cookies, and also had their business declined.

News reports and comments on blogs have also mixed reports of if the initial IUPUI student asked for cupcakes, cookies, or something else after one was rejected.

The initial news story is here.

So, what are my thoughts?

As a political observer, I find it interesting that the city is looking into terminating the lease for Just Cookies. While Indianapolis does have a city ordinance banning the discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, I haven't read it myself and am unsure of how it would apply. Based on my limited knowledge, I don't know if a lease could be terminated unless discrimination based on sexual orientation was explicitly banned in the lease. Apparently, JC is on a monthly lease, so they can be evicted any time for any reason at the end of the month anyway.

As someone who has worked in customer service for several years at various levels, I think the employees of Just Cookies need to watch a video called Just Give Em The Pickle. The Pickle Principal states:

When something happens with a customer and you’re not sure what to do? “Give ’em the Pickle!” Do what it takes to make things right!

The pickle philosophy has evolved from there as it’s been put into practice at various businesses. It may be about going the extra mile to make customers happy or putting your own personal stamp on customer service that sets you apart from your competition. At my favorite tire store they literally run to greet me when I step out of my car in the parking lot. I’ve met garbage collectors who stop to start lawn mowers and coffee baristas who add a heart or other designs in the latte foam. Those are all pickles. What are yours?

I served on all kinds of people while at Panera Bread, and never once did I see my co-workers refuse to help a customer because of some ideology an individual employee didn't agree with. And I can't imagine why anyone would do that. And 99% of the time, these things don't come up anyway.

Now, as someone who has been discriminated against, I sympathize with these would-be customers. It's not an experience that I'd wish on anyone. Though in the times it has happened to me, it's usually some clueless low-level employee or a security guard. The absolute worst time was when it actually was the owner of the store. To this day, I don't patronize that business anymore.

Finally, I think eviction is a bit harsh. I think if the city could make something positive out of this horrid situation, it'd be much better for all.

Other views:

Bil Browning of The Bilerico Project has his latest post on the subject here. Click on the appropriate tags to see prior posts.

In a dissenting view, lawyer and blogger Paul Ogden weighs in here.

Jon Easter of Indy Democrat posts his thoughts here and here.

Ruth Holladay reflects on how well Just Cookies must be doing financially, since they're able to reject customers at-will here.

UPDATE: Gary Welsh was blogging back in the day when the Human Rights Ordinance was originally passed. He weighs in and includes the text of the HRO, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in this post.

The portions of the ordinance that Welsh cites are as follows (emphasis is his):

The council finds that the practice of denying equal opportunities in employment, education, access to and use of public accommodations, and acquisition of real estate based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service veteran status is contrary to the principles of freedom and equality of opportunity and is a burden to the objectives of the policies contained herein and shall be considered discriminatory practices . . .
To provide all citizens of the city and county equal opportunity for education, employment, and access to public accommodations without regard to race, religion, color, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, ancestry, age, or United States military service veteran status
The exclusion from or failure or refusal to extend to any person equal opportunities or any difference in the treatment of any person by reason of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, color, national origin or ancestry, disability, age, or United States military service veteran status . . . Every contract to which one (1) of the parties is the city or the county, or any board, department or office of either the city or county, including franchises granted to public utilities, shall contain a provision requiring the governmental contractor and subcontractors not to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment in the performance of the contract, with respect to hire, tenure, terms, conditions or privileges of employment, or any matter directly or indirectly related to employment, because of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, age, disability, and United States military service veteran status. Breach of this provision may be regarded as a material breach of the contract.
It seems to be clear that Just Cookies violated this ordinance. I still am hoping for a positive outcome to all this. Nothing good can come from shutting down a business in City Market, which is struggling for customers and is often almost abandoned after the 11am-1pm lunch "hour" is over.

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