Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Ethics Cases

Business Ethics Cases

Family Loyalty vs. Meritocracy
Kirk O. Hanson and Oscar Bulaong
Focus: The president of a newly acquired Philippine subsidiary of an American company considers what to do about the practice of hiring family members.

Show Me the Money: Is a Minimum Wage Ethical?
Peggy Connolly, Ruth Ann Althaus, Robert Boyd Skip
Focus: Almost 80 years after the introduction of a minimum wage in the US, it remains controversial.

The Psychological Experiment You Consented To in Facebook's Terms of Service
Kirk O. Hanson and Patrick Coutermarsh
Focus: For one week in 2012, half a million Facebook users took part in a massive psychological experiment aimed at discovering if emotions could be spread through social media. The problem? Users had no idea it was happening.

Can a CEO Hold Conflicting Values with his or her Company?
Kirk Hanson and Patrick Coutermarsh
Focus: Mozilla CEO under fire for Prop 8 contributions.

The Two-Tier Labor System
Kirk Hanson and Patrick Coutermarsh
Focus: Companies are increasingly turning to a two-tiered labor system, where two groups of employees are treated quite differently despite performing the same roles.

Are App Developers on the Hook?
Kirk Hanson and Patrick Coutermarsh
Focus: The app market allows just about anyone to publish their software for download by the masses. Do these developers have the same obligations to their users as traditional businesses?

Using Fines to Enforce Gender Equality in the Workplace
Kirk Hanson and Patrick Coutermarsh
Focus: A recent trend in Australia has Boards fining their executives for not promoting enough women to senior positions.

Twitter IPO: Where are the Women?
Kirk Hanson and Patrick Coutermarsh
Focus: After filing for its IPO, Twitter came under heavy scrutiny for the lack of diversity in its senior leadership team.

Internship Swapping
Kirk Hanson and Patrick Coutermarsh
Focus: Executives and managers alike often "trade internships" to secure positions for their children. Is this practice ethically problematic?

The Rise of the Activist Shareholder
Kirk Hanson and Patrick Coutermarsh
Focus: Should the investing public welcome the rise of the activist shareholder?

Should Retailers Cut and Run from Bangladesh?
Kirk Hanson and Patrick Coutermarsh
Focus: In the fallout of the Bangladesh Factory Collapse, retailers face a hard decision: buckle down or migrate production to other countries. Is there an ethical component to this decision?

Does the Buck Stop With Management?
Kirk Hanson and Patrick Coutermarsh
Focus: Do senior executives get a free pass for actions of subordinates hidden from them? Or does the buck stop at the top? Should the boss always bear the ultimate blame?

Should Labor Policy Adhere to Local or Home Country Standards?
Kirk Hanson and Patrick Coutermarsh
Focus: Amazon is quickly becoming despised for personifying the qualities of American-style management that Germans despise. Should Amazon operate by more generous worker policies than it does in the US to appease local protestors?

Should Companies Admit They've Been Hacked?
Kirk Hanson and Patrick Coutermarsh
Focus: What public relations policy should companies adopt when dealing with a cyber security breach?

Employee Theft, Coercion, and False Confessions
Kirk Hanson and Patrick Coutermarsh
Focus: Retailers are increasingly using police interrogation tactics in investigations of employee theft, but reports of false confessions and coercion are on the rise. Should retailers abandon this practice?

Raiding Customer Assets at MF Global: Who Was Responsible?
James O'Toole
Focus: Should Jon Corzine be held accountable for MF Global wrongdoing?

Where Does Your Loyalty Lie? Sexual Ethics in the Workplace
Noah Rickling
Focus: A member of a sales team is asked by the wife of one of her co-workers about extramarital relationships on business trips.

Uncomfortable Attention From a Supervisor
Amanda Nelson
Focus: The vice president of a woman's firm reaches out to her on social media and invites her to a social gathering, which he does not do with her co-workers.

To Tell or Not to Tell the Board: Reporting of Bookings
Alexis Babb
Focus: A CFO is asked to book an order to which the customer has not yet committed.

Responsible Product Use: Regulating the Spread of Genetic Information
Amanda Nelson
Focus: Is a company with a genetic technology responsible for the uses to which other companies put their products?

Quality Management: Signing Off on a Substandard Product
Noah Rickling
Focus: A quality engineer has concerns about a product failing under extreme conditions, but her bosses tell her to push the product through to production.

Protected Class
Noah Rickling
Focus: When downsizing, a manager must decide which employee to let go, the one with better potential, or the one who, at 42 years old, is a member of a protected class.

Language Barrier: Sales Challenges in a Multicultural Environment
Saayeli Mukherji
Focus: Sales staff have trouble communicating the nature of a product to potential consumers.

Hitting the Number in Sales Generation
Noah Rickling
Focus: The sales team is only supposed to pass along "quality leads" to account executives, but there are monetary incentives to hit their numbers, which conflict with passing along only good quality prospects.

Finance Ethics: Do Small Errors Need to be Reported?
Amanda Nelson
Focus: Should a finance department employees correct all errors on reports, even if they are unlikely to have a significant impact?

The Dhaka Factory Fire: Who Is Responsible?
Saayeli Mukherji and Noah Rickling
Focus: Is the Bangladeshi government or the factory owner more at fault for a fire that killed 112 people?

Instagram and the Ethics of Privacy
Alexis Babb and Amanda Nelson
Focus: Is it wrong for an Internet company to share users' information with third-parties and advertisers?

Job Search Dilemma
Rebecca Bivona-Guttadauro
Focus: A job applicant is offered a job that is not his first choice. Should he take it and continue looking?

The Case of the Reference Request
Jim Balassone
Focus: A manager is asked to fudge on a reference for a former employee

Easy on the Wallet or Easy on the Earth: A Case About Ethics in Sourcing
Meghan Skarzynski
Focus: A company must decide whether to order cheap shirts from China or expensive shirts from a local eco-friendly manufacturer.

The Case of the Million Dollar Decision
Michael Hackworth, Thomas Shanks
Focus: A company is planning to expand in a country where bribery is a normal part of doing business.

Dennis Moberg and Edward Romar
Focus: What went wrong at WorldComm? Sweetheart loans to executives and a growth-through-acquisitions strategy are suggested as contributors to this business scandal.

The Case of Greene Gardens
Gregory A. Baker and Kirk O. Hanson
Focus: The case describes the 2006 E. coli outbreak in the California spinach industry.

Business Ethics Scenarios
Jim Balassone
Focus: Brief cases that raise questions on gifts, conflicts of interest, disparagement, and more.

Reporting Inflated Numbers
Jessica Silliman
Focus: A companys internal communications representative is asked to report inflated profit numbers.

Controversial Radio Advertising
Jessica Silliman
Focus: A sales intern for a radio station is pressured to mislead advertisers.

Bad Business Ethics or Acceptable Promotional Perks?
Jessica Silliman
Focus: A radio station inflates the number of on-air giveaways they ask companies to provide and then offers the excess as perks to station employees.

A Right or Wrong Way to Sell?
Jessica Silliman
Focus: A contract sales rep is asked to circumvent the industrys chain-of-custody arrangements.

Effects of Ethics Policies: A Positive Story
Jessica Silliman
Focus: Doing the right thing brings praise.

Aggressive Sales Quotas or Unfair Business Practice?
Jessica Silliman
Focus: An online directory chooses customer service over inflated advertising packages.

Public Relations: Is The Customer Always Right?
Jessica Silliman
Focus: A client rigs a talent competition/publicity event.

Deceitful Spammer or Marketing Genius?
Jessica Silliman
Focus: Is impersonation a viable marketing approach?

Client Obligations and Handling Your Boss
Jessica Silliman
Focus: A boss forwards a draft e-mail to a client.

Trust During The Dot-Com Boom
Jessica Silliman
Focus: A company woos a new employee under false pretenses.

WorldCom Case Study Update 2006
Edward J. Romar and Martin Calkins
Focus: A description of the events between the declaration of bankruptcy by WoldCom and its acquisition by Verizon.

Ethics Cases for Product Safety Engineers
John McBain and James Balassone
Focus: Ethical dilemmas for engineers charged with clarifying and overseeing product safety.

The Case of the X979 Jumpstart
Peter A. Facione
Focus: This fictional case study asks us to consider the ethical boundaries involved in intellectual property.

The Case of the Underwater Options
Miriam Schulman
Focus: An acquisition raises questions about fairness and an employee's right to know in this fictionalized case about a biotech start-up.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Leon Panetta & Paul Locatelli, S.J.
Focus: In desperate need of a tax break for his company, a CEO contemplates a questionable campaign contribution.

The Case of Bad News
Gil Amelio
Focus: The new CEO of a corporation learns that he has inherited problems with growth and profitability. A four-day workweek and, eventually, layoffs prove necessary. Who is the CEO obligated to inform and when?

The Case of Due Diligence
Thomas Shanks
Focus: How ethics can guide the conduct of a brokerage firm rewarding sales representatives with trips for the sale of a particular fund.

Nutritional Foods
Kirk O. Hanson
Focus: A company confronts the possibility that its product is causing illness.

The Sole Remaining Supplier
Thomas Shanks
Focus: What are the ethical questions involved when a company is the only supplier of a high-risk, life-saving product?

The Performance Appraisal
Thomas Shanks
Focus: How much should age and longevity with the company count in making lay-off decisions?

The Case of the Plant Relocation
Karen Musalo
Focus: Your company can make more money for shareholders by relocating plants to a country with low costs and fewer regulations.