On Monday afternoon, Jimmy Haslam held a press conference and talked about what steps Pilot Flying J is taking to deal internally with the whole rebate scandal. You can read the details at The City Paper and/or at Metro Pulse.
I will say that his discomfort and embarrassment, specifically when he was talking about having to call customers and apologize, looked genuine. He has pretty obvious tells — when he's on footing he feels certain about, saying things that are PR business-speak, he looks level to viewers or up. When he's uncomfortable, he looks down. He was doing a lot of looking down.
And it definitely seemed to me that the magnitude of the PR disaster this is for his company weighs on him.
But one thing I didn't talk about yesterday is the as-yet-overlooked federal trouble Pilot could be in. I mean, it's good that Haslam is directing the company to figure out what it owes people and pay them. But how do you make right the "Manuel" part?
Yes, you read that right, at Pilot Flying J, this program was not only called "manual rebates" but "Manuel rebates." Because it turns out that someone didn't learn the first rule of supervillainy, which is: "Don't call your racist plan by a name common in the group you're targeting." In the affidavit, on page 83, regional sales director Kevin Hanscomb outlines how and why Pilot allegedly specifically targeted Hispanics:
They're not stupid there is just ... uh ... there is a language barrier. So you can get away with a little bit more because they know that they are not going to understand everything that you say. So you can say cost minus, or cost plus 3, and it's cost plus 5 and they're not going to go oh well, he's screwing us ... maybe I misunderstood. So there is some forgiveness there that probably isn't at other parts of the world.
Yes, Hispanic people were specifically targeted because of the perceived language barrier and their willingness to assume good faith on the part of Pilot and forgive "mistakes." This would seem to put Pilot in an awkward position when it comes to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Pilot simply has got to be a place of public accommodation. Section 201(c) specifically mentions gas stations, and that's what Pilot is. So, they are forbidden by federal law from denying people "the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin."
Hanscomb's quote seems to clearly state that Pilot Flying J was singling out Hispanic-owned trucking companies because of the owners' race and charging them a different price for gas than they would charge someone who was "not stupid" but wasn't Hispanic.
And it's not just the Civil Rights Act that's a problem for Haslam. He's somehow got to go to those people and apologize not just for his company ripping them off — which has got to be hard enough to do — but for targeting them because of their ethnicity. That's not the kind of thing people readily forgive. And it's not the kind of thing they forget.
UPDATE: The "Manuel" rebate terminology I cited above can be found on page 7 of the affidavit:
Based on information provided through the cooperation of CHS-2, internally at Pilot, this deceptive practice has been referred to at various times as "manual rebates," "manuel," "manwell," "manuals," "manny," "manually calculating the rebate," "cutting the rebate," "adjusting," and "trimming," "cost-plussing," "screwing," and "fucking."