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Cases in Business Ethics

Preparing SCU students for the ethical challenges of a career in business and fostering a broad community of ethical support both on campus and in the working world. These cases were written by Santa Clara University seniors Alexis Babb, Saayeli Mukherji, Amanda Nelson, and Noah Rickling as part of their work as Hackworth Fellows in Business Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

The following postings have been filtered by tag Sexual Harassment and Misconduct. clear filter
  •  Caught in the Middle: Where Does Your Loyalty Lie?

    Cindy recently graduated from Santa Clara University and was working in a sales position in a growing tech company. She worked very closely with her team and had a good rapport with them. She was the only woman on the team, but she still felt at ease with her colleagues. Part of her job involved traveling across the country and going to meetings and events outside of work with her team and other sales people from different organizations.

    During certain non-customer, internal events, she noticed that some of her married co-workers were bringing women other than their wives. Although she was uncomfortable with the situation, she wanted to keep her distance so as not to become too directly involved with her co-workers and their personal decisions. She had knowledge of what was going on but didn't think it was her place to intervene.

    One day, at an office party, the wife of one of her co-workers approached her. She wanted to know exactly what was going on during these trips. Cindy was frustrated to be put in this situation by her co-workers and she didn't know what to say. Should she put herself in the middle of a coworker's marriage and tell the truth about the situation? Is there another option? She didn't want to damage the team and be looked at as an outsider. She knew that she was not involved at all in these behaviors, but she still felt very uneasy about the situation.

    How should Cindy react in this situation? Is it Cindy's place to step in and say anything, or should she stay out of the situation all together? With so many different loyalties, between her co-worker, her own values, her co-worker's wife, and her job, what is most important in this situation?

    Posted June 2013

  •  When Extra Attention Crosses the Line

    Annie has been recently hired full time at a major tech company where she interned for two summers during her college career. Annie loves her job and has established many strong relationships with her co-workers over the time she has worked there. The company encourages the interns and new hires to interact with VPs and upper management in order to create an open and friendly atmosphere.

    During her time as an intern, Annie began to notice that one of the VPs paid her extra attention. When he was around he would always make an extra effort to stop by Annie's cubicle and chat: something he did not do with any of the other interns. He reached out to her over social networking sites and even invited her to a gathering at his house. Some of her co-workers began to make offhand comments to Annie about the extra attention.

    Now that she was in a full time position, Annie began to dread that she would soon have to work with this VP directly. While he has not done or said anything explicitly inappropriate, the extra attention—and the fact that her co-workers noticed it—made her very uncomfortable and undermined her concentration on work. When she was hired, she was told that she should always speak to her manager if she was uncomfortable or had issues with the work environment. While at the same time, she is afraid to come across like a tattletale since the VP hasn't explicitly done anything wrong.

    What course of action should Annie take?

    Posted June 2013

  •  Breaking the Bro Code: Sexual Misconduct at the C-Level

    Arnold is the Chief Operating Officer of a multibillion-dollar public company in Silicon Valley. The staff is predominantly male, and holds quarterly upper management meetings offsite. Arnold attends one of the meetings, along with the company's CEO, CFO, and numerous VPs. The opening speaker is the Vice President of Operations, Jordan Tompkins, who was brought into the organization by the CEO, having been close friends in college.

    Jordan, who has college-age daughters, starts his presentation by sharing that he was out late the night before "partying," and that he “threw together” his slides. His first slide is a photo of a cheerleader from a local team—in a hot tub. He jokes that he is a big fan of this particular team. He goes on to cover some highlights of the company's recent performance. His last slide, however, is formatted to resemble a motivational poster. Entitled “Opportunity,” it is a photo of an apparently intoxicated college girl lying on the floor wearing only her underwear.

    Despite the widespread laughter, the consensus was that Jordan had pushed the envelope too far, but no harm, no foul. The CEO covered for Jordan, stating “That's just Jordan being Jordan.” Arnold was the exception, finding Jordan's behavior to be completely out-of-line and deserving of immediate termination. Arnold, being the COO, technically has the power to fire Jordan at any time, but it is clear that he is under the protection of the CEO.

    What should Arnold do?

    Posted June 2013

  •  On the Board: When the CEO is a Close Friend

    Bob Harris, a recently retired CFO, has served on the Board of a Silicon Valley tech company for several years. He was initially asked to join the Board by the CEO. The two initially met while serving on another Board and now have become close friends. Recently, the Board was confronted with allegations that the CEO had been having a sexual relationship with a mid-level sales manager at the company. Staff had observed that the individual in question had received numerous promotions and bonuses, and many employees expressed resentment over her seemingly preferential treatment.

    Bob shares in the widespread concern that the incident is affecting morale and needs to be addressed. At the same time, a public firing would damage the company's image, and in turn the stock price. He considers confronting the CEO directly, but fears that would be putting his friendship before his duty to the company, its employees, and shareholders. The board has scheduled a meeting for later that day to deliberate on the issue.

    What should Bob do?

    Posted June 2013