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By D Magazine |

Judge Makes Toast Out of Waffle House

Grapevine woman’s award of $8.1 million is no short order.

MOST JUDICIAL OPINIONS MAKE some pretense at being objective. Written in the passive voice and loaded with double negatives, they are artfully couched in enough “wherefores” and “whereases” to leave even the most intelligent lawyer won-dering what, if anything, has just been decided. Not so in the case of Therese Scribner vs. Waffle House Inc.

Last March, 28 months after trial, Federal Judge Jerry Buchmeyer issued what just might be one of the most scathing opinions ever written. In a blistering 194-page attack on the entire corporate culture of Atlanta-based Waffle House, Buchmeyer granted Grapevine resident Therese Scribner $8.1 million, one of the largest judgments ever awarded in a sexual-harassment case. He lambasted Waffle House executives for committing “severe and pervasive sexual harassment,” and accused them of lying, suborning perjury and bribing witnesses. But the way he did it, employing sarcasm, hyperbole and attitude, has left him open to attack from Waffle House lawyers who accuse him of being biased, overreaching and out of control. The problem is, he might also be right.

Therese Scribner is a petite woman with no-nonsense, cropped brown hair and a bubbly personality. At 45, she is married with two grown children and looks more like a soccer mom than the woman de- scribed by Waffle House executives as “our Dolly Parton.”

In 1986, Scribner began working for Waffle House after Steve Wright, then the western area manager and her next-door neighbor, offered her a job as a personnel recruiter. She soon discovered that Wright had paid her male predecessor a much larger salary. When she angrily confronted him, he told her, “I hired you because I saw you in a halter top and shorts. You’re making less because you are not a breadwinner.”

Each time she saw Wright, she says, he made a comment about her breasts; some comments were made in front of senior executives, including CEO Joe Rogers Jr. ’i thought I could handle it,” recalls Scribner. “It was the superwoman thing.”

By 1989, the sexual harassment of Therese Scribner seemed a matter of company policy. Waffle House executives Steve Oswald and Tim Mercer were merciless in their sexual innuendoes and bad-boy antics: Oswald jokingly offered new recruits a weekend with Therese in a bikini as a signing bonus. Mercer slipped a Polaroid camera between Scribner’s legs and snapped a photo.

After three years of abuse, Scribner couldn’t take it anymore. In October 1989, she complained to her new boss. Skip Nau, who drafted a memo to CEO Rogers. Four months later, Scribner was fired for poor job performance.

In 1991, Scribner filed suit against Waffle House, spending much of the next four years in depositions. But after six years of litigation, on March 7, 1997- Therese’s birthday-Judge Buchmeyer delivered his $8 million gift-and then some.

Because the case was tried without a jury, Buchmeyer evaluated the credibility of all witnesses. Injudiciously, he branded Steve Oswald and Tim Mercer the two “worst liars that have ever appeared before this court.” Sarcastically, he called Waffle House witnesses “paragons of virtue” and ruled that its defensive evidence was “ridiculous, baseless, patently absurd.” Yet Scribner, who is repeatedly referred to by her first name, was hailed as “one of the most truthful witness who ever testified before this court.”

Buchmeyer found that Waffle House not only engaged in sexual discrimination, but also racial discrimination (which was never alleged), perjury and bribery (rewarding Mercer with a Colorado franchise in exchange for his favorable testimony).

In an unusual motion filed March 24, Waffle House attorney William Finegan, demanded Buchmeyer be removed as trial judge, accusing him of “excess” and partiality. The motion also alleges that Buchmeyer secretly filed more than a dozen depositions, some with pages missing, more than two years after trial. Waffle House has declined to comment on this story.

Ironically. Buchmeyer himself must rule on whether he has been biased in the case. Small wonder Waffle House is planning an appeal. -Rebecca Sherman

perceived the legislation as an April Fools prank, the senator’s office assured D that it was no joke. “People need to recognize the unique-Governor’s veto not anticipated

Amid partisan battles over property tax reform, sports arena financing and the castration of sexual predators, State Sen. Chris Harris of Arlington sponsored a resolution proclaiming the Devil’s Cigar, a fungus species indigenous to North Texas, as the Official State Fungus of Texas. Although his colleagues first perceived the legislation as an April Fools prank, the senator’s office assured D that it was no joke. “People need to recognize the uniqueness of the Texas environment,” says aide Tom Marshall. Also recognized this legislative session were picante sauce, which was designated Official State Sauce of Texas; the 1015 Onion, honored as Official State Vegetable of Texas; and the buckminsterfullerene molecule, proclaimed Official State Molecule of Texas. The fungus bill unanimously passed the Senate by voice vote on April 7.

As of this writing, the bill Faces almost no opposition by Hous4e members because of the efforts of the powerful mycolo-gists’ lobby.

Fact Check

DALLAS BANKS: WHERE THE MONEY WAS

●Number of bank robberies in the city of Dallas Jan. 1 through April 7,1997:17

●Percentage change from the same period in 1996: +55

●Favorite day of week for bank robberies to occur Friday

●Prime time of day for bank robberies to occur 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

●Rank of Bank United as the Dallas banking institution robbed the most: 1

●Days between robberies at NationsBank at 6300 E. Mockingbird Ln.: 35

●Percentage of robberies in which a gun was actually observed: 35

●Number of robberies in which people were injured: 0

●Number of times “please” appears on the stick-up note during a March 21 heist: 3

●In that robbery, amount of money asked for $25,000

● Amount received before suspect left: $3,000

● Percentage of robberies performed alone: 82

● Number of suspects in all 1997 robberies combined: 21

● Number who are women: 1

● Average estimated age of suspects: 30

● Number who are estimated to be 40 years old or older: 4

● Chances that a suspected bank robber has facial hair: 1 in 4

Incidents in which a taped-up cardboard box, purported to be a bomb, contained a brick: 1

Price of a ski mask: $14.99

Price of pantyhose: $2.47

Sources DPD Incident reports Dshman’s. Target

Home-Grown Movie Hurdles Hollywood’s Homophobia

Coming out to a theater near you.

LESBIAN FLICKS MAY BE BIG BOX OFFICE in Tinseltown these days, but a word to fledgling filmmakers: Better make your lesbians sexy enough to excite the men in your audience. So said Hollywood’s major players to local filmmaking sisters Gretchen and Julia Dyer, who had to overcome this kind of bias in order to get their made-in-Dallas movie. Late Bloomers, to the big screen. Because of the relentless moxie of both, their film, a humorous love story between two middle-aged women, will open at the Inwood Theater this month. With life doing a bad imitation of art, their attempts at a major distribution deal resulted in much of the same prejudice as did their movie characters.

Late Bloomers is a funny, charming and controversial film about two suburban women-one married, one single-who happen to fall head over heels in love with each other. When the asexual geometry teacher played by talented Dallas stage actress Connie Nelson and the married school secretary, Theater Center regular Dee Hennigan, go public with their love, they threaten the tolerance of their small Texas town.

Major distributors such as Miramax, Fine Line and Fox Searchlight must have felt similarly threatened when the Dyer sisters brought them their film last year after a successful festival run. “They wanted Hollywood types like Sandra Bullock and Michelle Pfeiffer,” says Gretchen, the film’s screenwriter. “The women in Late Bloomers are meant to look ordinary.”

Never intended as a polemic on lesbianism, the film challenges mainstream assumptions that gays are somehow different from the rest of us, says Gretchen. “This movie isn’t about the lesbian culture. It’s about regular people who follow their feelings. It’s threatening because it could happen in your life.” Corporations such as No Nonsense Pantyhose and O.B. Tampons that generally pay big bucks to have their products worked into a script, insisted their products be removed from the film.

Although the Dyers came out of the Sundance Festival with three offers from distributors, each offer fell through. Finally, last January, the sisters closed a deal with Strand Releasing in Los Angeles. Late Bloomers is now set for national distribution beginning in early summer.

For a lesbian film to make good money, it must find an audience within the straight community. Late Bloomers could be helped in this regard by its upbeat, happy ending. If the film returns profits to its Dallas investors, the Dyer sisters will once again find life imitating art. -M.D.

What’s In a Name? Money

Area firms under siege over corporate IDs

WANT TO START YOUR OWN WEB SITE for a new business? Watch out! Somewhere in the global economy lurks a middle manager who is surfing the net. As he stumbles across your home page, he may notice that your company’s name bears a similarity to a product trademarked by his multi-national concern. You may find yourself at the receiving end of a cease-and-desist letter.

Protecting one’s trade name is fast becoming the most popular game in (own. Worthy of protection are goods, services, words, colors, sounds, smells-anything that identities a product with a business. Legally, whether a company has infringed on a trademark depends on whether the mark is so similar to another thai it is likely to cause public confusion.

Here are scenarios from three local companies locked in a David-and-Goliath struggle over their very existence. Because it’s the public who must be confused, we decided to let you make the call.



SCENARIO 1: What must have seemed like aminor nuisance for Time- Warner big wigs has become bandleader Eric Keyes’ worst nightmare. His Denton rock band. Riddle Me This, has been sued by the entertainment giant, which says he is trying to trade on the Batman name. The phrase “riddle me this” was uttered by actor Jim Carrey, who played the Riddler in Batman Forever. Time-Warner claims it had heavily marketed the Riddler phrase long before Keyes had formed his band. Keyes feels he was outed by his web site and says the phrase is an archaic ex- 1 pression found in the Oxford English Dictionary. Result: Time-Warner will allow Keyes to use the name “Riddle Me This” but only in the Southwest. Keyes has refused and awaits his day in court.

SCENARIO 2: Since 1993, Trinity Express has been engaged in the transportation business out of Lewisville. On Sept. 3,1996, co-owner Barbara Baird says she received a phone call from a DART executive wanting permission to use the name HI Trinity Express for DART’S new commuter rail line out of Irving. Baird said no. On Dec. 30, DART opened passenger service for its new rail line. Trinity Railway Express. Ever since, TEI has been deluged with calls about train scheduling and passenger complaints. A lawsuit soon followed.

Result: Trinity Express Inc., its resources exhausted, has reached a settlement: Each company will keep its respective name.

SCENARIO 3: A glance at the phone book reveals several dozen companies starting with Town & Country: a cleaners, a car wash, a claim service. Last year, when publisher Elizabeth Egan began her new magazine, Town & Country Pets, she didn’t think she was interfering with a trademark. But last March, she received a cease-and-desist letter from Town & Country magazine. The only aspect of the magazine’s name that has a valid trademark is its ampersand {&), but its owner, the Hearst Corporation, has threatened litigation anyway. Result Town & Country Pets has changed its name to City + Country Pets. -MD.

YESTERDAY

Juneteenth: Holiday Marks the End of Slavery

Word of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation didn’t reach Texas until two months after Lee’s surrender on June 19, 1865. On that date, Union Gen. Gordon Granger issued a statement in Galveston, and “Juneteenth” has been a special day in this state ever since.

Granger’s proclamation, in which he advised ex-slaves to “remain at their present homes, and work for wages,” was little more than an effort to maintain the status quo. The first Juneteenth event in Dallas the following year, which featured horse racing, picnicking and fiddle playing, was more a celebration of hope than reality. Even after the turn of the century, most Dallas County black residents were share-cropping or working for a dollar a day.

Famed educator Booker T. Washington visited Dallas for the Juneteenth celebration in 1915, an occasion featuring the usual abundance of fried chicken, turnip greens and black-eyed peas. June 19, 1936 was a special day at the Texas Centennial, highlighted by an appearance by band leader Cab Calloway and a track meet pitting black Olympic athletes against white athletes from the South. The following year, the tradition continued with a visit from legendary tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

The remembrance fell into disfavor during the unrest of the 1960s but then regained its popularity, becoming an official state holiday in 1979. Controversial black Dallas legislator Clay Smothers opposed the holiday, arguing that the celebration amounted to little more than “busting watermelons on the Capitol grounds.” Despite his efforts, Juneteenth festivities have grown in grandeur and scope, focusing on black history, family and achievement.

-Tom Peeler

Dogs and Cats Get City Council Reprieve

Pets in Dallas allowed to do their business as usual.

(The following excerpts were taken from the transcript of the City Council meeting April 9, 1997. A good time was had by all. )

City Secretary Bob Sloan: Item 12 is an ordinance amending the city code to create an offense for a person to allow a dog or cat to defecate on public or private property….Mr. McDaniel, do you have a motion…?

Councilman McDaniel: Yes, sir, I do….I move for approval of the ordinance which y’all have a copy of…

Mayor Kirk: Mr. Lipscomb?

Councilman Lipscomb: I’d like to be supportive of this, but I see where you have cats involved there….Is cats gonna betaken out?…Does a neighbor have the authority to hold someone and pull a citizen’s arrest until the pooper patrol come up (laughter) and ticket them…? And then also, about the mounted patrol that’s riding the horses down the street…you have the people in the West End with their carriages…

Councilman McDaniel: …It was written to include dogs and cats. I understand there’s some sentiment to withdraw the feline…I’ll accept it as a friendly amendment….

Councilman Lipscomb: I’m just trying to be serious about this, Mr. McDaniel…Do we have a pooper patrol, though? Do we have one? ’Cause our police are busy now trying to find some of these crack dealers….

Councilman Salazar: …I would offer the friendly amendment to exclude cats…

Councilman Stimson: OK, so the kilty cats are out. We just got the ? puppy dogs now….The reality of this is we can’t enforce it. Somebody sees a dog poop, ya know, it’s gonna be your word against theirs. You’re gonna have to get out the DNA test and figure out whether it came from that dog and get the timing on it, in order to prosecute the thing….Let’s not make criminals out of the dogs, OK, guys?



Councilman Wells: You know, Mr. Stimson, I don’t think that we should discriminate against dogs. 1 mean, this is just not fair. (Laughter) Dog discrimination….



Councilwoman Mayes: …You gotta run with the big dogs or stay on the porch. I don’t think we’re gonna be able to run with the big dogs on this one. What about the homeless dogs?…What about the dogs in the police academy?…We cannot be held accountable for our animals messing in someone else’s yard…



Councilman Hicks: I want to make sure there aren’t some of the potential problems here. Does this have anything to do with pot-bellied pigs or pigeons that are honorable war veterans? (Laughter)



Councilman McDaniel:…No, it does not.

Councilman Hicks:...The real reason I can’t support it is that I got too many stray dogs in District 5. We’re dealing with a different kind of dog down in South Dallas….


Mayor Kirk: …I don’t have an animal now, and my yard has become the dumping ground of East Dallas….But 1 think it is the height of not being a good neighbor to think it’s OK for you to come down here and suggest some dog’s got some constitutional right to walk all over the south of the city crapping all over the place. That’s as foolish as this bill…



Councilman McDaniel: Move to proceed with the vote?



Mayor Kirk: All right….Those in favor vote yes, those opposed vote no…. Motion fails on 7-7 vote. Lack of a majority.

(Former Councilman Paul Fielding was absent from the meeting because he was in federal court unsuccessfully trying to clean up his own mess.)

Who’s Drawing the Great Murals of Dallas?



No way the artists at EYECON INC. could ever paint with too broad a brush. Not when their monumental murals take up half a city block and cover the sides of entire parking garages. But what better way to end that drab commute to downtown than to park your car in front of one of the grandiose works of Dallas artists Jeff Garrison and Chris Arnold [a graduate of Dallas Arts Magnet High School). Working in an art form that first gained popularity in the United States during the Great Depression, Arnold and Garrison have been creating large art in Dallas since 1992. Before getting totally out of proportion, they were designing walls and ceilings for Good Eats, The Studios at Las Colinas and Children’s Medical Center. Their most recent parking lot piece is The Storm, a 12-story passionate celebration of the creative process that will be completed this month, weather permitting.-Cooper Abbott

The Blood Scrubbers

Couple finds niche market in crime scene clean-up sendee.

STRAIGHT FROM THE FILES OF CRIME Scene Clean-Up Services of Texas, Inc., Case No. 38:

MARCH 20, 1997, 11 A.M. A Coppell real estate agent is stabbed repeatedly while showing a home to a madman posing as a buyer. After the attack, the man flees and Joan Malone, bleeding profusely from several upper-body gashes, drags herself across the house, searching for a phone to call an ambulance. Amazingly, she lives.

SAME DAY, 5 P.M. The police conclude their investigation at the scene of this brutal assault. The yellow tape comes down. Understandably, the owner of the house is too frightened to go home until all traces of blood are gone.

SAME DAY, 7 P.M. The owner calls Crime Scene Clean-Up since, well, it’s the only company around that specializes in such a peculiar Lady Macbeth-ian venture (“Out, out damn spot!”). Yes, it’s a little unnerving (and slightly nauseating) to know that mopping up the aftermath of a violent or near-death is a profitable enterprise. It’s also a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

In this case, it’s done by newlyweds Alan and Maria Fenster, who started their home-based business seven months after they were married. She has a biology background; he is the entrepreneur. They got the idea from reading an article about another couple who had launched a similar company in the Northeast. To date, the local husband and wife team and three part-time employees have taken on 47 “cases” (their word). These include one attempted murder, two murders, four natural deaths and the rest, suicides-most of those being young, high-income professionals. The price for getting a crime scene cleaning ranges between $400 and $2,700, depending on how gruesome the facts. The case of the rabid raccoon in the school office was one of the most expensive. The couple was brought in after animal-control workers killed the racoon in an extremely messy encounter.

Both Maria and Alan claim their newfound profession is the most rewarding job they’ve ever had-one that puts them in a unique position to help people in a crisis.

“People like us,” says Alan. “We are very, very sensitive; they’re freaked out.”

The Fensters use word-of-mouth advertising only. That means they don’t chase ambulances, don’t comb the newspapers for sensational crimes and don’t own a police scanner.

“I hate to think that people even think things like that,” says Maria. “To me, that’s gross.”-Sara Peterson

THE EYES OF DALLAS ARE UPON YOU



Somewhere, the spirit of George Mifflin Dallas, our city’s namesake and the 11th vice president of the United States, is smiling. His stonework mug has been saved from the wrecking ball by the ambitious downtown renovation of the old Titche-Goettinger Building. The wild-eyed George leers at passers-by walking down Elm Street like a character in an Edgar Allan Poe short story. His limestone likeness is perched prominently over the entryway of this Italian Renaissance building that sits on St. Paul between Main and Elm. Dallasites who have yearned to live downtown are already moving into apartments craft ed inside the six-story, art deco-studded edifice that was the third home of the now- defunct department store. Old George would be proud.

Elizabeth Eckstein

FOR THE RECORD



SINCERELY YOURS, PAUL N. FIELDING

“I am in a fight for my life with the Federal Government right now over false accusations of criminal wrongdoing. I am concentrating on the trial and defending myself vigorously, but at the same time I am running for re-election as your Councilman…! ask for your trust and your vote.”

Fielding campaign literature mailed during die first week of his trial on federal extortion and mail-fraud charges. During the second week. Fielding changed his plea to guilty and resigned his Council seat.



SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND PLATE

“I’ve never seen so much anger in people’s eyes over things worth $5….This is just a vendetta against Ms. Tilton. It just proves how much they hate her.”

Comments of Chris Merlo. Leigh Tilton”s divorce attorney, after settlement negotiations with evangelist Robert Tilton broke down over arguments about toasters and toys. Merlo is Ms. Tilton’s fourth divorce lawyer.



THE NEW CIVILITY

“Mr. Delay regrets the incident took place. They were questioning his integrity on the floor, and he has a right to stand up and defend his honor.”

Aide to House Majority Whip Tom Delay. R-Texas. justifying the actions of his boss. who got into a shoving match on the House floor with Rep. David Obey. D-Wis. A month earlier. House members went on a retreat hoping to build a more amicable relationship between Republicans and Democrats.



BIG GOVERNMENT IN A SMALL TOWN

“I thought I lived in America… If someone had said two years ago that I’d be forced out of my home for a shopping mall, I would have never believed them.”

Homeowner Jeff Molenburg taking issue with the right of the city of Hurst to condemn bis home and nine others for the expansion of North East Mall.

YOU AND ME BOTH, PAL

“I consider myself dead. I am just waiting to be buried.”

Fort Worth serial killer. Death Row inmate and sexual predator Kenneth McDuff commenting on the state of his health.