I don’t know about you, but, when I pick a check-out line at the store, I always wind up in the slowest one. It never fails. So I’m not really looking forward to the start of this “hurry-up and wait” holiday shopping season.
That’s also why I cringed a bit when I read about Heather Ellis in Kennett, Missouri. She switched check-out lines at a Walmart and sparked a near riot. According to authorities, witnesses say Ms Ellis cut in front of someone who had already placed their merchandise on the conveyor belt. Besides cutting in, Ellis then proceeded to push those goods aside and replaced them with her items.
The incident sparked more than a bit of check-out rage with Ms Ellis getting huffy and belligerent when the woman she cut in front of started to fight back. Ellis says she was merely joining her cousin who was already in line. Ellis decided to change lanes when it appeared the line her cousin was in moved faster. Police, however, say that Ellis refused to calm down and leave the store when asked and when police arrived on the scene she resisted arrest, kicking one officer in the shin and splitting the lip of another.
The rest of the case (yes, there is now a suit that could send Ms Ellis, the African American school teacher to jail for 15 years) reads like a bad Saturday Night Live skit.
Ellis complained to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that she was “pushed by a white customer, hassled by store employees, called racial slurs and physically mistreated by Kennett police officers.” Protests were held in the town of
What started out as bad manners has escalated into ugly stereotyping, questionable legal activity, and a racially charged suit. What a mess.
Business disputes, especially between employer and employee, often start the same way. There is a misunderstanding or a miscommunication that breaches a basic protocol or expectation. Somebody’s buttons get pushed and if the process isn’t managed properly from there, the situation can quickly escalate.
Try as we might, mistakes will happen. No one is perfect. It may therefore not be possible to totally avoid misunderstandings or miscommunications. We do, however, have a second chance at fixing things by not pouring lighter fluid on a situation when sparks start to fly.
Perhaps the best legal advice for avoiding liability in such situations comes from our mothers who always told us to “mind our manners” and act like a lady or gentleman. People are more inclined to forgive you and let you another chance if you have a reputation for trying to do the right thing.
Avoiding legal liability works much the same way.