A phantom ad causes trouble for businessman

June 08, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

Hans Morsbach is a liberal. A Hyde Park and University of Chicago liberal, in fact, which is just about the most liberal kind of liberal that you can find in Chicago.

So he is confused and angry at finding himself accused by federal bureaucrats of being the kind of guy who discriminates.

Morsbach, 61, is well known in the Hyde Park area, where he has owned restaurants since 1963.

Currently he operates the Medici on Harper, another Medici on 57th Street and Ida's Cafe and the Pub, both on the U. of C. campus.

Without false modesty, he says: "I think I'm a damn near model employer. I hire black people, white people, young people, older people. I have older people who have worked for me for 20 years.

"I have a history of promoting based on merit, and at this time nearly half my managers are black."

So what's the problem?

The problem sounds so weird that if I didn't know Morsbach, and hadn't seen the bureaucratic documents, I would think he made the story up as a hoax.

Here, believe it or not, is what has happened to him.

A few months ago, a man came into his Medici restaurant and asked the manager about the restaurant's hiring practices.

He was an investigator from the Chicago office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"I paid no attention to it," Morsbach says. "I knew I had a good conscience, so I ignored it, and my manager gave the investigator some personnel records.

"Then in April I get a call and they say they have found a violation and I had to do certain things to get back into their good graces.

"They proposed a conciliation agreement, or whatever it's called, but they refused to tell me what it was I did. They just told me I must do this conciliation.

"Then I got this letter from them. And it told me what I did wrong, but I still don't understand it."

I have seen the bureaucrat's letter, and I can understand Morsbach's confusion. The letter sounds nuts.

The key portion reads this way:

"Although I cannot release your file to you at this time, I can advise you that the finding is based in large part on a notice placed with an employment agency, the Job Exchange, on Sept. 16, 1993, seeking 'wts' described as 'young, bub.'

The letter goes on to say that their investigation determined that none of the four people hired after that date were in their 40s.

And that is why Morsbach is in trouble, because he is accused of advertising for a "wts," which we assume means a waitress, and that he wanted that waitress to be "young" and a "bub."

But Morsbach says: "I never advertised for a waitress. And I don't even know what 'young, bub' means. Bub? Why would I advertise for a bub if I don't know what a bub is?"

So Morsbach made what appears to be a reasonable suggestion: He asked the EEOC bureaucrats if they would show him the ad, tell him in what publication it appeared, who placed the ad, and he might be able to figure out what the heck is going on.

No, say the bureaucrats. He has two options: He can mediate a settlement, which means hiring four people who are over 40 years old, giving them back pay, full benefits, seniority, etc., etc.

And he must post a notice in his restaurant promising to never again discriminate against anyone because of their age.

If he doesn't do these things, then they will take him to court.

That's the way it now stands, with Morsbach not having the faintest idea how an ad about a "young, bub" was placed somewhere without his knowing it.

As he wrote to the EEOC, "I am utterly unconvinced that any of my employees discriminated against anybody. It is conceivable that an employment agency may have placed an ad in our behalf over which we had no control. The Medici never uses lingo such as 'wts' or 'young, bub.' I don't even know what 'bub' means; it is not listed in my dictionary.

"I should state that you have not shown me a copy of the ad nor established that anyone in my organization conceived it or approved it.

"Your suggestion that I should post notices promising to stop discriminating is an insult. The Medici has always enjoyed excellent rapport with its employees. Many have worked for me for decades; we have minority individuals in managerial positions, not because they are ethnically different, but because they deserve the position. I have fired a manager for making an anti-Semitic remark. Being a decent employer is as important to me as making money."

We called the EEOC and asked about the ad for someone who is "young, bub." A bureaucrat said they would get back to us. They didn't.

So Morsbach is now deprived of his most basic legal rights: facing his accuser and being shown the evidence against him.

I think some Chicago congressman should pick up a phone, call the EEOC and say: "Why are you paper-shufflers picking on this taxpaying businessman? And what the heck is a 'young, bub'?"

And if they can't explain, maybe they should start advertising for bub jobs themselves.

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