The other day, a Senate committee was talking about universal health care and the need to assure that no one is discriminated against for reasons of age, sex, or any other reason. It is a fine concept but it made my blood run cold.
That's because these decisions seem to wind up being made by federal bureaucrats. And they have a strange way of dispensing what they consider to be justice.
An example is a case I wrote about recently, that of a restaurant operator named Hans Morsbach, who runs several restaurants in Chicago's Hyde Park area.
Morsbach has been found guilty, in effect, of practices in hiring that discriminate against older people.
He's been told what his punishment will be and what he must do to make amends. It includes a public confession of his guilt and a promise that he will never do it again.
All of this has happened without (1) Morsbach having the faintest idea what the government is talking about and (2) confronting his accuser or (3) getting to look at the evidence against him.
It is the kind of lopsided justice one might expect to find in China or the old Soviet Union, but not in this country.
And what makes this case even more weird is that it could probably be cleared up by reasonable people in a few minutes if only the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would bring out the evidence.
Mr. Morsbach has asked to see the evidence against him. You would think he's entitled to that courtesy. But the EEOC turned him down.
I've asked to see the evidence against him. Same results. The EEOC haughtily says such matters are confidential.
And now the office of U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., has asked to see the evidence.
You would think that a request from a member of the Congress of the United States would carry some weight with a federal agency.
But as an aide to Gutierrez says: "We've had dealings with the EEOC before, and let's just say that they're not helpful."
For those who missed the earlier column, here is what Morsbach is accused of:
The EEOC says that an ad on his behalf was placed with an agency called the Job Exchange, seeking a "wtrs" who is "young, bub."
This means Morsbach discriminated against potential applicants who might not be young.
But it is not clear what "bub" means. Morsbach says he doesn't know, and the EEOC won't tell him.
Morsbach says he doesn't know about "young, bub" because he never placed any such ad. Nor, he says, did any of his managers.
We talked to the Job Exchange, which seeks workers for many restaurants and food service agencies. A manager said he has no idea what the heck the EEOC is talking about.
"For one thing," he said, "the EEOC has not been in touch with us.
"For another, we don't run ads for specific businesses.
"And we wouldn't run an ad like that. We advertise only in the Chicago Reader, which has strict codes for appropriate wording. We can't even use waiter or waitress. We must say waitstaff. There's no way we ever used that wording.
"And 'bub?' I've heard of bub meaning 'bubbly.' A 'bub' in a dictionary is a young boy. So I don't know what this 'bub' is all about. We'd never place an ad for a 'bub,' whatever it is."
It makes you wonder what kind of investigators the EEOC has, when it apparently failed to talk to the Job Exchange, which it says ran the ad, and when it refuses to say where the ad appeared.
But in an arrogant, patronizing letter to Morsbach, the EEOC told him that he must comply with its demands or he will be taken to court.
Its demands include his hiring four older people, giving them back pay, retroactive benefits, seniority, etc.
And he must post a sign in a prominent place in his restaurant, effectively admitting his guilt and promising not to discriminate ever again.
Which has steam squirting out of Morsbach's ears, since he has always had a policy of hiring people regardless of their race, age, sex or any other consideration besides ability.
So he is going to tell the EEOC to shove it and take him to court.
That means government lawyers will have something to do. A judge will be required to preside over the case. The court clerks and bailiffs will be put to work. Who knows how many thousands of dollars in tax money will be spent to resolve the strange case of the "young, bub."
And it could probably be cleared up in minutes if the EEOC would open the file and say: "Here's what we have. What do you say?"
But as a spokesman for the EEOC says: "We have confidentiality rules."
Confidentiality. Yes. And back in the old days the hangman wore a mask for purposes of confidentiality. Some things don't change.