Toy Yoda v. Toyota

I ran across a captioned photo recently showing a young woman with a boxed Yoda toy, where the caption was a large “FAIL”. The story behind the photo was a bit interesting, and led me to an analysis article by a lawyer with a sense of humor.

Several years ago, Jodee Berry was working as a waitress at a Hooters restaurant in Pensacola, Florida. Apparently, management would hold periodic contests for the wait staff, probably with the goal of maintaining enthusiasm. For the two or three people left in the world who don’t already know, Hooters restaurants are primarily noted for various styles of fried chicken wings and having young female wait staff who tend to have mammary glands on the large side of average. In any case, the waitresses were informed that a month-long contest would be held with several Hooters restaurants participating, where the waitress selling the most beer to customers at each restaurant would have their name entered in a drawing, the prize to be a Toyota vehicle. According to Berry, periodically the manager would remind the waitresses of the contest and drop little pieces of information such as that he wasn’t sure whether the Toyota would be a car, truck, or van, or that the winner would have to pay for tax and registration on the vehicle.

Jodee Berry won the contest. For the award ceremony, she was blindfolded and led out into the parking lot, where when the blindfold was removed, what was in sight was not a Toyota vehicle, but rather the Yoda figure out of the Star Wars merchandising collection, or a “toy Yoda”. Apparently, great hilarity was had by all. And for some, the hilarity goes on in the form of the photo with the large “FAIL” blazoned across it.

Well, almost everybody was laughing. Jodee Berry did not take this lightly. She quit her job at Hooters shortly thereafter and retained a lawyer. She sued her former employers for breach of contract, contending that she was due a Toyota automotive product as winner of their contest. Gulf Coast Wings, the company owning the particular Hooters restaurant in question, presented a couple of different arguments as to why they shouldn’t pay up. First, the contest was held in April and was obviously a joke. This argument has a mixed history of success in law, and tends to have the less success where fewer of the principals understand that there is a joke in play. Second, Gulf Coast Wings argued that Berry should have submitted to arbitration instead of a lawsuit, according to terms of her employment contract. The court explicitly denied this argument, noting that Gulf Coast Wings reserved the right not to have such arbitration be binding on itself. It’s unclear whether the “jes’ funnin'” defense argument would have gone anywhere, because somewhere in there, Gulf Coast Wings settled the suit with Berry. Details weren’t forthcoming, but Berry’s lawyer assured reporters that there was enough there for court costs, his fees, plus a real Toyota vehicle for Berry.

I’ve summarized much of the story above from a legal analysis article by Keith A. Rowley. It is worth a read. At the time Rowley wrote it, the case had not been settled. But I found Rowley’s conclusion quote-worthy:

Whether Jodee Berry is ultimately successful against Hooters remains to be seen. However, she has already survived summary judgment, which suggests that Hooters will end up spending substantially more money defending this lawsuit than it would have cost them to perform. Our moral: If you are going to use the farce, beware of the dark side.

It seems to me that an updated version of the photo of Berry with her Yoda toy is needed. I’d really like to see a smiling Berry with her Toyota vehicle and the toy Yoda, and a nice large “WIN!!!111!!!” caption.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

One thought on “Toy Yoda v. Toyota

  • 2009/07/20 at 7:47 pm

    That’s a good one!

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