In today’s litigation from Google Hell, a guy named Larson sues a guy named Olson….
Another young South Dakota food worker has sued a regional franchise owner over an insulting name tag. Caleb Larson, now of Aberdeen, is suing his former boss, Watertown Pizza Ranch owner Ross Olson, for the defamation and emotional distress incurred when he forgot his nametag and the boss handed him a tag labeled “braindead”:
Larson… claims in the civil complaint that he went to work at the restaurant on May 25, 2013, but left his name tag at home. Larson says he told Olson that he could either clock out and go home to retrieve it or he could ask a family member to bring it to the restaurant.
Olson, according to the complaint, responded, “I got one,” and handed Larson the offensive name tag.
“Maybe this will be our new pass around here for people who forget their name tags,” Larson claims he was told by Olson when he first refused to wear it. He ended up wearing it during the shift, though, because he says he feared losing his job [“SD Pizza Restaurant Ex-Employee Sues over Offensive Name Tag,” AP via Aberdeen American News, 2015.05.15].
Olson pretty much concedes the first part of the story. His defense relies on the plaintiff’s burden of proof:
In his response to the lawsuit, Olson admits he gave Larson the name tag, but he denies Larson wore it and challenges Larson to present “strict proof” [AP, 2015.05.15].
When I read that Olson admitted giving Larson the name tag, I thought, “Where’s his lawyer?” Unless Larson is waving that name tag for the cameras (the way Tyler Brandt has been able to show the “Gaytard” name tag over which he is suing the Yankton Taco John’s), the first statement from Olson should have been, “What name tag?” But Olson’s lawyer has recovered with an entirely logical response to a defamation lawsuit: defamation requires saying something unpleasant and untrue about an individual to people other than that individual. Larson bears the burden of proving not just that the boss gave him heck for forgetting his name tag but that the boss then subjected him to public humiliation.
Olson gets no sympathy from me for bad management practices—you don’t get better performance from employees by humiliating them in private, never mind in front of other workers or customers. But if Larson wants money out of this deal, he’s going to have to find witnesses—and surely customers would have noticed and could recall encountering an employee wearing a tag that said “Braindead”—who can corroborate his story. (Witnesses, feel free to submit your recollections in the comment section below… and be ready to attest to those recollections under oath!)