Long before FOX News came to Panama City to report on Spring Break, the world's most beautiful beaches were making news and national headlines with cases like the Toy Yoda case. Jay Leno even had a comment on it in his opening monologue on the Tonight Show. The case made the USA Today and the BBC news.
The plaintiff, Jodee Berry, a waitress, filed suit against her former employer, Hooters, claiming that they fraudulently mislead the servers into believing they were participating in a contest where the grand prize was a Toyota Vehicle.
What actually happened was that the eventual winner, Ms. Berry, was awarded a toy Yoda doll from the Star Wars franchise. When she filed her case, the first hurdle she faced was Hooters’ motion to dismiss, claiming that she had to go through arbitration. Hooters, along with many large national businesses, have their employees sign an arbitration agreement that effectively gives up their right to sue the company and instead they must pursue any claim through arbitration.
Arbitration panels are notoriously pro-business. If Hooters was successful in their argument, the plaintiff would be barred from suing them in court and would, instead, have to utilize the arbitration provision to pursue her claim.
Judge Glenn Hess, now state attorney for the 14th Judicial Circuit of Florida, was the presiding judge. Judge Hess ultimately ruled that the plaintiff could proceed with her claim and that the arbitration clause was a contract of adhesion, effectively meaning a one-sided contract which was unenforceable. This allowed the plaintiff to move forward with her claim. With their motion to dismiss unsuccessful, Hooters ultimately settled with the plaintiff a few months afterwards.
JGD's own Don Dennis was a staff attorney working within the court at the time the case was pending. He recalls the case as being one that at first glance is comical, it actually presents a good example of the pitfalls facing employers and consumers alike. The seemingly harmless joke by the manager turned out to be quite costly for the restaurant.