(Almost DailyBrett editor’s note: The following is an outstanding (unedited, as is) blog post from a University of Oregon School of Business colleague Timothy Dobyns…yes, MBAs can actually write…at least one of them. The post below reminds Almost DailyBrett of the PR debacle at Spirit Airlines…and in both cases these self-inflicted wounds could have been easily avoided. Sigh). 

An Open Letter to Jeff Ellis Management


July 6, 2012 by Tim Dobyns

Today, I’ll be going away from my usual sport theme and posting a letter that I sent to Jeff Ellis Management, the company who fired a lifeguard in Florida for leaving his post to help save a drowning man on a different area of the beach. It’s a little rough, but I wholeheartedly believe everything that I wrote and just want to spread the word as much as I can about this horrible organization. Before you read my letter, here is the story from Reuters.


I, like most other people who believe in the good in the world, am concerned with the health and well-being of my fellow citizens. Each of us has different families, groups of friends and jobs. We also have different values, beliefs and convictions. Despite the inherent differences that separate us and make us the unique individuals that we are, we are also all a part of a larger community. Our membership in this community is not a matter of choice, but rather born of an innate obligation to help our fellow-man and woman and make the world a better and safer place to live. Certainly, there are those who live by their own self-interests, and that also is their choice. But, because of the existence of one brave lifeguard (and other similarly minded bystanders who assisted) who was willing to break the rules, today there is one more man in the world than there would have otherwise been. One more son. Maybe one more husband, brother or father. For that, we can thank Tomas Lopez and the other Good Samaritans who helped.


I was shocked and appalled to hear about Jeff Ellis Management’s response to Mr. Lopez’ effort to save not only a struggling swimmer, but a person that was in danger of losing their life by virtue of drowning, or more literally, asphyxia by water inhalation. When we hear about someone dying, we rarely consider what the experience itself must have been like. We say that a person drowned, got in a car accident or got cancer. These are just simple words that mask the true terror of the physical manifestations of these types of deaths. Jeff Ellis Management’s actions dictate that it would rather have seen a man die by no longer being able to breathe underwater – having water fill his lungs as he slowly realized that he would never see his family again.

Thankfully, Tomas Lopez’ perception of morality is guided by a set of principles that those at Jeff Ellis Management failed to consider when designing the suffocatingly bureaucratic set of rules governing the actions of its lifeguards. If the rules are taken literally, I understand that lifeguards are never supposed to leave their scan area. In fact, I once worked at a community pool which was operated by Ellis so I know all the rules which, for the most part, were designed to keep the patrons safe. However, I am now embarrassed beyond description that I ever took money from the organization.

Rules are not meant to be followed blindly. In America, we are individuals who are empowered and encouraged to do what we think is right. By contrast, Ellis Management has taken a decidedly tyrannical stance on the power of choice. It has fallen into the trap that George Orwell cautioned against in Nineteen Eighty-Four and succumbed to the temptations of persecuting individualism in the name of total, unquestioned control. Many of the greatest American heroes and visionaries have been rule-breakers, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. Each of these men went against the grain and risked their lives to do what they believed was right.

There is a concept in the law called “duty to rescue.” It arises in situations of great peril in which a life is in danger. It has a few variations, one of which is the Good Samaritan Law and others which simply require that citizens inform authorities that another person is in danger. However, no matter where you are, emergency workers, including lifeguards, are required to assist a person in peril by virtue of this duty to rescue. Technically, the law states that these emergency workers must assist only if the situation falls within the parameters of their employment. So, Jeff Ellis Management would state that Tomas Lopez abandoned his duty as a lifeguard by leaving his post and entering an area of the beach that he was not paid to monitor. In that context, the duty to rescue may not have applied since he was no longer operating within the confines of his employment by Ellis. However, Lopez showed the world what kind of person he is by taking the term “lifeguard” literally and helping to save a man’s life. Shame, humiliation and disgrace on Ellis for saying he should not have.

Until now, this letter has been, for the most part, politely written. But, after this embarrassment, Jeff Ellis Management does not deserve politeness. It fired a man for helping to save a life and then fired other employees for supporting him. It is an absolutist, a tyrant and a bully. It is a company with morals so loose that it should be required to dissolve its assets and donate everything to charity. Ellis Management’s offer to restore Lopez’, and the other fired lifeguards’, employment was a pathetic attempt to save face and, thankfully, was swiftly rejected by the former employees. By turning down the offer, these lifeguards showed once again why they are better than Ellis.

So to Jeff Ellis Management, you are an embarrassment to everything America stands for; a pestilent cesspool of immorality that should be drained as soon as possible. Hopefully, your thousands of clients throughout the United States will choose to break their contracts and hire a different, more conscientious organization that cares more about human life than bureaucratic rules. I wish you the worst of luck.


Timothy Dobyns