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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Silicon Valley Business Ethics Cases

Gender Discrimination

Preferential Treatment in the Workplace

Should an intern file a complaint on behalf of someone else against their wishes?

Will is an intern at a government engineering office where he works within a team of four other interns; they all report to one primary boss, Jim. Will notices that Jim has drastically different approaches in dealing with male and female interns. He often sends Will and his fellow male interns on faraway projects or tedious tasks that he never assigns to the only female intern, Meghan. On her part, Meghan is also unhappy with this extra attention as she only gets in-office engineering projects working alone with Jim and no experience of being in the field. As a prestigious conference approaches, Jim predictably selects Meghan as a representative for the office without even informing the other interns about the opportunity.

The interns collectively get a little more curious about Jim's background and realize that numerous sexual harassment cases have been filed against Jim in the past, though he has never been prosecuted. They are informed that these types of charges in government offices have to be followed with strict adherence to state policies including having an investigator ask the whole office specifics regarding the situation.

Despite the urgings of her teammates, Meghan is reluctant to file her own report as she does not want to confront Jim directly and an anonymous report would easily be traced to her. Fearing that the report will compromise her prospects at full-time employment at the office, she tells Will that she will just deal with it for the rest of the internship: “It's only another three months anyways.”

What should Will do?