Catherine is a new hire at a startup that produces LCD displays for large venues, such as shopping malls. Part of her job requires her to troubleshoot malfunctioning displays.
One day, a shopping mall reported that two display units out of twelve had stopped working from their installation three months prior. The customer also noted serial and revision numbers on the two units were different from the rest of the units.
At the job site, Catherine inspected the displays and realized her company had sold units that were from a bad batch (i.e. group of displays that did not have over 50% yield during manufacturing). Catherine wanted to tell the site why the units failed, but recognized that if she disclosed this information, the site would be eligible to receive replacement displays at no additional cost. On the other hand, if she blamed the failing units on a weaker cause, such as improper installation, her company would be able to charge the site for replacement units.
Catherine knew her manager would want her to choose the option that would minimize the company’s losses; however, she wanted to be honest with the site as they were one of the company’s best customers.
What should she do?
Jocelyn Tan was a 2014-2015 Hackworth Fellow in Engineering Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.