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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Presidential Pressure

Clare Bartlett

Tony works for a small company that tests electronics products before they are released to the market. The company performs independent quality assurance tests to certify that the products meet all government regulation standards.

Tony’s company signs a contract with a large cell phone company; this contract is the first major contract the company has received and has the potential to greatly increase their revenue. Tony is then assigned to conduct all the tests on the cell phone company’s latest product.

Tony conducts all the tests and finds that the phone is up to regulation on almost all tests. However, the product fails to meet the regulation requirements for interfering noise transmittance. Tony knows that this test is not always reliable and repeats it a couple more times.

While he is repeating the test, the president of the phone company visits Tony in the lab to see how the testing is going. When Tony tells him that the product is consistently failing one test, the president proceeds to tell him, “There are hundreds of people whose livelihood depends on the release of this new product.” Additionally, he tells Tony he has worked as a test engineer and knows the test is not always accurate, and it would be in everybody’s best interest if Tony could approve the phone.

Tony is shocked that the president would come up to him in lab and imply that he should falsify data. He is unsure of what to do and knows that if he stands up to the president, his company could lose out on the large phone company’s business. But if the product is not certified for release, hundreds of people could lose their jobs.

How should Tony handle this situation?

Clare Bartlett was a 2014-2015 Hackworth Fellow in Engineering Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

August 2015

Aug 26, 2015