The gay waitress who says she was discriminated against may have lied. Now what?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 - 10:14 AM

Perhaps you saw this incredibly viral story. A gay waitress in New Jersey is stiffed on a tip. On the receipt, the customer explains that they can't pay her because they "do not agree with her lifestyle." 

It's easy to see why it was popular. It's a story that's very easy to tell (it's a one-panel story - you just need the picture of the receipt) and it's emotionally uncomplicated. It's bald bigotry, and reading it, you feel outraged.

But now, a couple has told NBC that they were the waitress's customers and that her story isn't true. They say the check is a forgery and that they have proof: their copy of the receipt plus their credit card bill. 

There's two interesting stories here. One is about how we're living in a moment where there are a lot of people competing to find and disseminate viral human interest stories, and very few people in a position to fact-check those stories.  

The other story is about the legal ramifications when someone allegedly commits fraud, not for money but for attention. The original waitress in the story is a woman named Dayna Morales. When Morales stepped forward, people wanted to give her money, but she directed them to donate instead to the Wounded Warrior Project, a veterans service organization which isn't affiliated with Morales.

So if Morales is, in fact, lying, she hasn't benefitted financially from her fraud. Friend-of-OTM and George Washington law professor Jonathan Turley says that legally, this case reminds him of the Stolen Valor Act. The law made it illegal for someone to lie about having won war medals. The Supreme Court struck it down, saying it was an unconstitutional abridgment of freedom of speech. Part of the argument against punishing people who lie to seem heroic is that simply revealing their lie to the public is usually enough punishment. Here's Turley: 

Instead of benefitting socially by claiming to be a decorated hero, she allegedly made herself into a social hero under false pretenses. While we have seen various cases of prosecuted fraud for people collecting money under false claims that they are dying or have lost a loved one (here and here and here and hereand here and here), these people are usually found to have pocketed the money. There is the question of whether she had any travel paid for by the media for hotels or flights etc. That would constitute a benefit for establishing the elements of crimes like fraud. Any book deals or movie deals, including early rights payments, would obviously be sufficient.

In the end, if the story is proven true, Morales could walk with simply the ignobility of the disclosure of the hoax. I have written before that such social isolation and condemnation is sufficient in Stolen Valor cases where no money was accepted. For people who want to be heroes, the status as a social pariah comes is a heavy sanction. She allegedly not only undermined the claims of true discrimination victims but used the fight of equality to benefit herself. Morales would not require a criminal charge to feel the judgment of society in such a case.

It's worth reading his entire piece -- he looks at every imaginable way Morales could be punished, assuming she did make the story up



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Comments [6]


One thing that to a degree negates the original argument is that at the speed that modern media works, the retraction of the story will receive much less buzz than the original story. This is the way the yellow press has worked for years and in the age of the internet Buzzfeed and co. have perfected the model. Even in this case, the outrage of Morales lying is FAR smaller than the original story simply because it has turned from a single panel story to a multi page act.

Jan. 15 2014 03:27 AM
Dara Parsavand

"So if Morales is, in fact, lying, she hasn't benefitted [sic] financially from her fraud."

Turns out she is in fact lying. And turns out the charity has not received the money (, in which case she would appear to be vulnerable to a fraud prosecution. I sure hope so.

Dec. 09 2013 03:33 PM
Wally from Black and White and Read All Over

It's 2013, why would a "journalist" ask any questions that delve deeper into a story? Is there any money in it? Are the subjects promoting a product or brand?

Dec. 02 2013 11:53 PM

Why did this waitress think she had to lie?
How immoral can a person be!?
The couple accused of this lie showed their receipt.
They gave her an $18 tip, and nothing else!
The waitresse's receipt had no tip.
What a lying shrew!

Dec. 02 2013 08:25 PM
Mark Richard from Columbus, OH

I think that journalists should be extremely skeptical of stories such as this. A lot of them were taken in by the Duke/lacrosse claims, too, for the same reason - it is not exactly a secret that mainstream media folks are easily taken in by tales that fit the 'liberal' civics lesson template. Presently there is a concerted movement in the mainstream press to downplay the 'knockout game' murders, while playing up the verbal harassment of African-Americans at San Jose State and on the Miami Dolphins. Some moral equivalence.

Dec. 02 2013 12:25 PM
Matt from Los Angeles

"It's emotionally uncomplicated. It's bald bigotry, and reading it, you feel outraged." I feel like this should have immediately set off everyone's bullshit detector.

Nov. 26 2013 03:42 PM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by Meredith Haggerty. You can subscribe to the TLDR podcast here. You can follow our blog here. I tweet @manymanywords and @tldr.

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