The law really is 'a ass'

Cal Thomas

7/25/2002 12:00:00 AM - Cal Thomas
It is now possible in America to win a discrimination lawsuit against a private business without ever having applied for a job. One may also seek damages against an establishment if he wants a lap dance in a certain room but can't get there because the room is not wheelchair accessible. Read on. Four years ago, a federal judge, responding to a lawsuit on behalf of four women (only one of whom actually filled out a job application) ruled that Joe's Stone Crab restaurant in Miami Beach was guilty of sex discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had alleged that the nearly 90-year-old, family-owned, upscale restaurant, which is owned and run by a woman, discriminated against women. By the government's count, there were not enough female wait staff, though females were employed in management and in other capacities at the restaurant. Joe's holds annual "auditions" for its wait staff, members of which must carry very heavy trays laden with large stone crabs and dishes. Owner Jo Anne Bass says that until recently mainly men have applied for the jobs because of the physical nature of the work. The last time I ate there, last year, a woman waited on our party and several waitresses were serving other tables. The EEOC, which has been trying to make a federal case out of Joe's for 11 years, won a partial victory July 12. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals erased damages awarded in 1998 to two women the EEOC claimed had been discriminated against when they applied for jobs at Joe's. But the court upheld the damages awarded to another woman and ordered Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley to recalculate the damages awarded to a fourth woman. (The ruling will reduce the $154,000 in back wages and benefits, plus interest, originally awarded in the case.) Where this case gets even more ridiculous is the appeals court finding that the two women for whom the court awarded damages were only "interested" in applying for server jobs at Joe's during 1990. They opted not to apply because they were told by acquaintances that Joe's did not hire women. Think about this, and, if you're a trial lawyer, you will: If you drive by an establishment and don't go in to apply for a job because a friend of yours, or a complete stranger, has told you that he or she has "heard" they don't hire your kind, then riches for you are only a phone call to an attorney away. Joe's lawyer, Robert Soloff, says the court failed to identify any discriminatory hiring practices, even though it found the restaurant guilty of discrimination. Go figure. Soloff told me he will ask the appeals court to reconsider its ruling. Joe's has spent more than $1 million defending itself against the federal government, which has an inexhaustible supply of cash. Now, think about this: Citing the Americans With Disabilities Act, an Orlando man filed suit recently against the Wildside Adult Sports Cabaret in West Palm Beach, Fla., because a section of the club reserved for men who want one-on-one nude lap dances is not accessible to his wheelchair. The club has handicapped parking and restrooms equipped for patrons in wheelchairs. The plaintiff can get his lap dance at his table, but the lawsuit says his rights are being violated because he can't go to the semi-private room and have women rub up against him there. Some people call cases like these "drive-by lawsuits" and attorneys tell me of a number of private businesses along Florida's Interstate Hwy. 95 who've been hit by them. Lawyers and plaintiffs are getting rich by filing these frivolous claims. "These lawyers are making a mockery of the law," Rep. Mark Foley, a Republican from Boca Raton, commented in the Miami Herald. Dickens' Mr. Bumble knew what he was talking about when he observed, "the law is a ass." ("Nicholas Nickleby"). And so are the lap dance and EEOC lawyers.