Charles Riffe Essay

Published: 2021-06-29 01:46:32
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Cronan CaseemailprotectedFacts:Paul Cronan was employed by New England Telephone Company (NET) in1973 as a file clerk and promoted to service technician in 1983. In 1985,for a period of six month, Cronan began sporadically missing work due toAcquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) related symptoms. Cronan’s supervisor requested explanation of the absences and assuredCronan that this would be kept confidential.
Cronan explained his AIDSstatus, was excused for the day, and subsequently ordered to see thecompany doctor. Two days later Cronan was informed by a co-worker that shehad heard he had AIDS and that other co-workers were threatening Cronanwith bodily harm should he return. Fearing for his safety and healthCronan requested he be placed on medical leave, this was granted withbenefits. In late August 1985 Cronan felt well enough to return to work.
Heobtained the required medical fitness certification but was hesitant toreturn to the South Boston office he had worked in. Informed thatdisparaging graffiti had been left on the bathroom stalls he used, and thatmanagers within the company had promised to have his work areasdisinfected, Cronan was fearful for his safety and requested a transfer. Aresponse to his request was not forthcoming. Cronan fell ill again inearly September and received a letter offering his original position withno mention of the transfer request.
In December of 1985 Cronan, assisted by the Civil Liberties Union ofMassachusetts, filed a $1. 45 million civil lawsuit in state court againstNET charging violations of state privacy law for disclosure of Cronan’sillness. The suite also alleged discrimination, claiming that AIDS was ahandicap and thus was covered by statutes prohibiting discrimination. Cronan was hospitalized several more times but by the spring of 1986had improved. In June, he was notified that his illness benefits hadelapsed and was being placed on long-term disability, which meant he was nolonger a NET employee.
In October of 1986, Cronan and NET reached an agreement allowingCronan to return to work the following week. After his return Cronan faced “a hostile environment” which includedwritten threats to gays and lesbians, union grievances filed stating Cronanwas a violation of the health and safety agreement, and workers’ refusal toenter the same building with Cronan. The union alleged NET was not providing sufficient education toemployees concerning the risks associated with AIDS. NET maintained it hadundertaken a “good faith effort” to educate employees concerning AIDS andthe myths associated with AIDS.
Legal AnalysisIssues:Cronan was terminated when he received notice his benefits hadlapsed. Was this a legal termination under relevant employment law?Were privacy or employment rights violated when Cronan’s conditionwas made known to the workforce at large?In light of Cronan’s illness, where violations committed under theAmerican’s with Disabilities Act?Cronan’s illness could be perceived as sexual in nature. Was Cronansubjected to sexual harassment under the meaning of the applicable statues?Application:Cronan’s long history with illness and the related attendance recordset into motion the process leading to his termination. The companyfollowed established procedures when notifying Cronan of his eventualtermination and placement in long-term disability status.
The Civil Rights Act (CRA) of 1964 applies to this case because NETemploys more than fifteen employees. The act protects workers andprospective workers from discrimination in hiring, terminating,compensating or setting the terms and conditions of employment based onsex, color, religion, race or national origin. Cronan was not an obvious member of a protected class. However, theactions of management and the nature of his illness created a situation inwhich Cronan was subject to harassment of a sexual nature, which is coveredby the Act. When management leaked Cronan’s condition to the general workforce hewas faced with threatening and demeaning graffiti, threats to his safetyand barriers to his continued employment. Many of the threats revolvedaround the assumption Cronan was gay and had contracted the disease throughhomosexual activity.
The continued threats against his person created ahostile work environment, which is firmly established as a violation undertitle IIV of the CRA by the Supreme Court in the 1986 case Meritor v. Vinson. The fact that many of Cronan’s antagonists were also men has nobearing on whether or not the actions constituted sexual harassment. InOncale v.
Sundowner, a case decided by the U. S. Supreme Court subsequent tothe Cronan case, the court ruled that Title IIV applied to the standard notonly to cases of classic sexual discrimination, but also to those were theemployer was discriminating against members of the their same sex. It could be argued that a disparate impact was established whenmanagement divulged the personal information to employees.
However, sincethe acts of management did not have a discriminatory effect upon a class ofemployees protected by the Act, this would not apply. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed by congress in 1990would have provided Cronan additional relief had it been enacted prior to1986. The ADA protects workers from discrimination based on disabilities. The act defines a disability as “any physical or mental impairment thatsubstantially limits one or more of an individual’s major life activities.
“A “physical or mental impairment” includes physical disorders orconditions, disease, disfigurement, amputation affecting a vital bodysystem, psychological disorders, mental retardation, mental illness, andlearning disabilities. One of the elements that constitute a “major lifeactivity” is work. The ADA requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations fordisabled workers. While there is not a hard and fast definition for”reasonable accommodations,” it seems probable that NET violated this whenit refused to respond to Cronan’s request to be transferred because of theactions of co-workers.
Ethical AnalysisIssues:It was reasonable for NET management to expect an explanation forCronan’s numerous absences related to illness. Once Cronan revealed hissituation, did NET management behave unethically by revealing his illnessto other employees?Did NET behave ethically by its subsequent actions?Application:Applying ethical theory to the Cronan case reveals many interestingvantage points from which to make ethical judgments. Differing theoriesoffer varying arguments both for and against NET’s behavior. Under Utilitarianism, the ethical decision is that which produces themost utility when compared to any other alternative.
The initial taskthen, is to define utility as it pertains to a particular set ofcircumstances. If utility is defined in the Cronan case as employee harmony andhappiness, then it might be argued that NET behavior was, in fact, ethical. Given the amount of fear and tension Cronan’s illness inflicted upon theemployee population, his returning to the workplace put enormous stress onhis co-workers, thereby lowering the amount of harmony and happinessexperienced by the majority of workers. Under these conditions, the mostethical choice would be to terminate Cronan’s employment with disabilitybenefits maintaining harmony and happiness among the greater amount ofemployees while lessoning the amount of impact upon Cronan. The increasedutility for the many would outweigh the discord of the one. The same answer would be produced if utility were defined as the amount ofgoods and services produced at the lowest price since employee happinesshas a direct correlation to productivity.
The productivity of the companywas surely suffering during this period of fear and frustration thusdriving up costs. This situation, the greatest amount of utility wouldagain be achieved by returning the most employees to high productivityusing the most expeditious means. Conversely, NETS release of Cronan’s medical information to thegeneral employees would yield a single answer using either utilitycriteria. If utility is defined as happiness and harmony, then NET could havepreserved the maximum utility by keeping Cronan’s situation confidentialand continuing to employ Cronan when he was physically able to work. Thisagain correlates to increased production and would yield the same result ifutility were defined using productivity as a standard. One of the major criticisms of Utility theory is that it fails whenit is applied to situations involving social justice.
In order to arriveat a different answer under Utilitarian thought, utility would need to bedefined using all persons possibly affected by discriminatory behavior likethat perpetrated by NET. In Kantian theory, “an action is morally right for a person in acertain situation if, and only if, the person’s reason for carrying out theactions is a reason that he or she would be willing to have every personact on, in a similar way. ” Simplified, due unto to others, as you wouldhave them do unto you. Examining the privacy issue one could assume that any member of NET’smanagement would not want his or her personal information released to thegeneral employee population.
Kantian philosophy would indicate that it istherefore unethical for management to release private information. What if management felt the information concerned the health of otheremployee?It could still be maintained that management placed in Cronan’ssituation would not wish private information divulged. When Kantian theory is applied to NET’s subsequent actions andbehavior the answers derived are not as clear. NET’s inactions to provide reasonable considerations for Cronan’sillness would seem unethical because if placed in a similar situation, areasonable person would wish to be similarly accommodated.
However, thisdoes not take into consideration the safety of fellow workers. Little was known about AIDS and how it was spread during the Cronancase. Medical experts were not able to say with certainty that HIV couldnot spread through some forms of casual contact. This being the case, itis reasonable to assume many individuals would feel it was correct toisolate infected individuals even if they themselves were to become theinfected party. This leads to a criticism of Kantian theory. The lack of clearresolution when the rights of differing parties clash.
The theory does notprovide clear guidance as to the ranking of rights. Does one’s right tofreedom and dignity outweigh another’s rights to live free from fear ofdisease and death?Under strict Kantian interpretation, if the perpetrators of an actwould wish it to be universalized, then the act is ethical. Under thisguideline, an act’s ethical status depends solely upon the actor and notthe action.

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