Burrito Battle

What’s the recipe?

Here’s something to think about if you’re bored: If you own a restaurant and you set up a build-your-own burrito bar, are you using a recipe? After all, the customers are the ones doing the burrito building. Aren’t they the ones with personal recipes?

You’ve guessed by now that this issue (sort of) has come up in litigation. Fans of entertaining lawsuits will be pleased to know that a federal judge in Louisiana has refused to dismiss a complaint alleging, among other things, that the owner of a chain of grocery stores bribed an employee of a restaurant company to get its secret burrito bar recipe. The grocery guy, allegedly, was also sued for telling people that the plaintiff was litigious.

The defendant is just as weird as the plaintiff. The rationale for his (or his lawyer’s) motion to dismiss was that the plaintiff’s complaint was false and scandalous and generated embarrassing local publicity — most of which, if you read it, made fun of the plaintiff, not the defendant.

I propose that they settle this by merging their companies. These people are made for each other. In the meantime, I’m keeping my personal burrito recipe a closely guarded secret.

Another example of astonishing business acumen surfaced last week in a New York federal judge’s ruling: “Defendant Kozak is the founding member and the co-owner of Ann Arbor, designed Ann Arbor’s LIFEGUARD branded apparel, directed Ann Arbor’s art department to copy plaintiffs’ design in an email and asked his attorney whether he could ‘bury’ the email during discovery.”

Picture yourself as the attorney on the receiving end of that question. Fortunately, the defendant’s attorney here seems to have avoided that trap and then got to argue that “a T-shirt with the term ‘LIFEGUARD’ is the best way to identify lifeguards.”

You don’t want to be misled by just anyone sitting in a really tall chair.

Consumer choice. It’s so hard to do the right thing these days. You never know, for example, if the product or service you’re buying was created using slave labor. For all you know this column was written by a slave chained to a keyboard. I could be typing a plea for rescue in code.

The point is that if you’re a good person and you know that this column or, say, a can of tuna was being produced by slaves, you wouldn’t read or eat it. The moral decision has value.

Right?

So it kind of dismayed me to read this proclamation in a Ninth Circuit ruling last week: “Plaintiffs failed to allege that the existence of forced labor in the supply chain affects the seafood products’ central function. … Therefore, Mars was under no duty to disclose.”

Really?

It seems to me that slave labor is pretty central to the description of the product and a decision on whether to buy a product.

OK, there’s no law that says you have to reveal how badly you treat your workers or whether your middle management is racist or sexist, so the group of companies that got hit with class actions over failing to reveal the possibility of slave labor are technically not liable for false advertising. But it does make one wonder what else companies aren’t telling us.

My suggestion is that we all stop buying anything. It’s the only way to do the right thing.

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