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Obscenity-laden e-mail leads to Facebook boycott

Dissatisfied movie patron marshals Facebook outrage after receiving an offensive response to complaints about her movie-going experience.

Some e-mails are not suitable for opening in the workplace, and then there are e-mails not suitable for sending from the workplace.

This must be the difficult lesson for Steven Payne, a vice president (at last word) of Evergreen Entertainment. Payne's company operates a chain of movie theaters, including the St. Croix Falls Cinema 8, in St. Croix Falls, Wis. Recently, a patron of the movie theater wrote a letter to the company complaining about the experience she and her husband and another couple had during a showing of "Shutter Island."

Sarah Kohl-Leaf of Taylors Falls, Minn., complained in her letter that the theater offered no option to purchase tickets with a credit or debit card, meaning she and her husband had to use their cash for the tickets and then borrow money from the other couple to purchase refreshments. (The lobby ATM was reportedly out of cash.) Then, she said, the staff interrupted the movie to check the ticket stubs of the seated audience.

"I did not pay 18.00 to have a distracted experience," she wrote in a letter to the company and later posted to Facebook. "I would rather drive to White Bear Lake, where they obviously know how to run a theater than have this experience again."

She said she was shocked by the response she said she received from Payne:

Drive to White Bear Lake and also go f*** yourself. If you dont have money for entertainment, get a better job, and don't pay for everything on your credit or check card. You can also shove your time and gas up your f****** ass. Also, find better things to do with your time. This email is an absolute joke. We don't care to have you as a customer. Let me know if you need directions to white bear lake.

Kohl-Leaf said she soon received a follow-up e-mail from Payne (also posted to Facebook), which offered an apology for the previous e-mail and suggested that a recent management change was to blame for her poor movie-going experience:

Mrs. Kohl-Leaf, I tried to contact you via a phone call to issue this apology personally and was unable to reach you. I sincerely apologize for my inappropriate response to your email yesterday. As vice president, I should never have reacted that way, no matter how I felt about your email. At Evergreen Entertainment, customer service is an important part of our business, and that clearly was not reflected by my use of profane language.

The e-mail went on to invite Kohl-Leaf to give the theater another chance, but by that time the insult was irreparable. In an apparent attempt to publicize her customer service experience and punish the company, Kohl-Leaf turned to Facebook, creating a group called "Boycott St. Croix Falls Cinema 8."

In just a few days since Kohl-Leaf created the group, more than 4,300 people have joined--roughly twice the population of St. Croix Falls. Many in the group appear to be local residents and have sounded off on the page with notes of outrage directed at Payne and calls for a picket of the theater.

But Payne is not without his defenders. A rival Facebook group called "We Support Steven Payne - VP of St. Croix Falls Cinema 8" has been created. As of this writing, it has 68 members.

Neither Payne nor Evergreen Entertainment immediately responded to e-mail requests for comment.