Topic: Business & Commercial
The Bank of America Teller and the Thumbless Customer
You may have heard the story: a branch of the Bank of America in Tampa
refused to cash a check for Hillsborough County public works employee
Steve Valdez, because the bank required a thumbprint from non-account
holders, and Valdez has no arms. No arms, no hands; no hands, no thumbs;
no thumbs, no prints; no prints, no cash.
“Sorry sir; it’s bank policy!”
The various news accounts of this classic tale of bureaucratic idiocy
concentrated on the fact that the bank was violating the American with
Disabilities Act. Voila! This is how law obscures ethics. Would
the bank’s actions have been any more reasonable, fair, caring, kind and
responsible if there was no law? Why should anyone with a brain, a heart
and a sense of humanity require a law to look at a man with no arms and
decide, “Gee, I guess the thumbprint requirement doesn’t apply in this
case.” This isn’t a legal matter. It’s an ethics question, and a really
easy one, because the Golden Rule was invented for situations like this.
If you were in the place of the thumbless man, Mr. Teller, what would
you want someone in your position to do?
Nobody’s suggesting that the Bank of America should have suspended its
policy out of pity or sympathy. This isn’t a bleeding heart argument:
“Oh, the poor guy: he can’t hitch-hike or signal to a gladiator that he
wants him to kill his opponent. I’ll cash his check to be a nice guy.”
It has nothing to do with being nice. It has to do with recognizing
when a policy is absurd in application, unjustly causing inconvenience
and humiliation to another human being. Consider these dilemmas:
The teller should have asked for sufficient identification to satisfy
himself that Valdez has a valid check. Valdez had it: he had his driver's
license with an address matching his wife's on the check. That’s what
the would have wanted, reasonably, if he was the one with no arms. And
there was absolutely no reason not to bend the rules. The ADA wasn’t necessary
to solve this. People need to know when to consider the impact of their
conduct on others when there are no laws involved.
Any individual, and any bank, that needs a law to remind them not to
insist on a thumbprint from a man with no thumbs is ethically impaired,
and has no common sense. And having no common sense is a much greater
handicap than having no thumbs.