Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Stupid Lawyer Tricks at Starbucks?

Peter at Texas Hold 'Em and Patrick at Badger Blogger have commented on the decision by the Starbucks at 76th & Layton to cancel a gig by a Christian musical group - apparently because of the complaints of one customer. It was apparently reported on Belling's show. (Why anyone was listening to Belling when I was a short trip up the dial is beyond me, but that's taste for ya.)

Starbucks deserves whatever bashing it gets, but this is actually a scarier scenario than Peter and Patrick and Belling have already suggested.

There is a substantial possibility that Starbucks' lawyers advised them to dump the Christian band. Here's why. Starbucks is a public accommodation under the Civil Rights Act. As such, it can't discriminate on the basis of religion. That much is clear and all good.

The problem is that courts have developed the concept of a "hostile environment." You can discriminate against someone by creating an environment in which he or she is uncomfortable because of your conduct based on race, sex, etc. Mostly this concept has been used in sexual harassment cases. Think of the female worker who complains because the employer allows a male "locker room" environment on the shop floor.

But while it is an idea that grew up in cases involving hostile environments for women, its not limited to that context. People have argued that employers who put bible verses on their paychecks or even the Washington Redskins (by using their name in a stadium that is a public accommodation) have created an unlawful hostile environment.


Am I defending Starbucks? No. I still think there is room for a more reasonable interpretation of the law to prevail. But I am pointing out the ways in which lawyers and courts can take perfectly reasonable statutes and turn them into something Orwellian.

4 comments:

Dad29 said...

"...turn them into something Orwellian..."

For the benefit of the lawyers, by the way.

Rick Esenberg said...

You'll get no argument from me.

jp said...

I wish we all could spend more time on really important problems.

Peter said...

Thanks for the legal perspective. None of us being lawyers, we'd never have caught that.