What’s the going price of ethics?

Mar 12, 2007 1:03 AM

Maybe it’s because I attended an Ethical Society nursery school or possibly from my work in the Middle East, I have developed a profound empathy after seeing what havoc is wrought from all sorts of intolerance. I feel it is important to share the following incident with you.

While working as the Database Marketing Manager in a Louisiana casino, I attended the usual Wednesday afternoon hotel operations meeting. Present were two African-American staff members, who were visibly distraught.

To make a long story short, these employees recounted an incident at the front desk, in which a customer — after being told his coupon was invalid — flew into a tirade, which was punctuated by racial slurs directed at them.

Eventually, the front desk clerk — after consultation with a supervisor — Miss allowed herself to be bullied into giving the man a complimentary room.

I am by no means a "bleeding heart liberal," however, I am a humanist and I know my right from wrong. While I keep my temper pretty well, this to me was a moral outrage.

There are the moral/ethical issues, which are transparent, and then there are the more subtle legal issues. If the front desk agents had been the vindictive type, they could have hired a decent commission based lawyer and claim that the Isle casino was forcing them to work in a hostile work environment.

Following the meeting, I approached our general manager and explained the racially charged verbal attack on the front desk staff.

His question: "How much does the customer play?"

I have smelled gangrenous legs in Mexico, been enveloped by the wretched slums of Cairo, and seen up close the result of a street shooting, but never have I felt more sick to my stomach.

In a surreal moment, I had to wonder, is this man so out of touch with reality of the human condition that he cares more about money than an employee, a real live human being with inherent dignity?

A person was racially slandered, and the general manager wants to know, first and foremost, if the property loses this beacon of intolerance, how it will affect the all mighty weekly financial reports.

As a dutiful employee, I did as I was assigned and looked up the customer’s gambling history. He averaged a daily loss of about $40.

But what if he had lost $4,000 or $40,000? It wouldn’t matter! What the customer did was wrong. And I was finally allowed to "86" the so-called customer from the property.

One of the front desk clerks later said to me, "No one has ever done anything like that (for us) before in the 7 years I’ve been here. Why did you stand up for us?"

I replied that there were two reasons. Foremost, from my family, I learned it was the right thing to do. Second, and I hope this is true, since a minority family owns the majority of the company, the leading forces would not tolerate acts of racial or ethnic oppression.

There’s also a third, more esoteric reason: Call it the Return on Investment of Ethics. Maybe I should have minded my own business. But doing the right thing often has a way of coming back to reward you.

By the way, although a few days later I was fired, every night, around 6 p.m., dinner is still on my table, and I eat it with a clear conscience