Category Archives: Workplace

Ethics Alarms Mailbag: Is Arguing In The Alternative Unethical?

No, it isn’t, but I understand why it might  seem that way.

 “I didn’t do it, no one saw me do it, and you can’t prove anything!”

“I didn’t do it, no one saw me do it, and you can’t prove anything!”

An email from ethics issue scout Fred calls my attention to the case of  transgendered female Leyth O. Jamal, 23, who filed a sexual discrimination suit in September claiming that managers at a Saks store in Houston  referred to her as a man, made her to use the men’s restroom and pressured her to dress as a man despite being aware of her transgender identity. She also claimed a male colleague repeatedly asked her whether she was a prostitute in front of customers and colleagues, and threatened her. Saks fired Jamal after she brought a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In federal court this week, Saks withdrew its Dec. 29, 2014, court filing asserting that transgender workers are not covered by the gender discrimination ban in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The company  still denies that it discriminated, and has made statements about how it “believes that all persons are protected against sex discrimination under Title VII” of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It had argued, however that the plaintiff had based her case not on sex discrimination but on the issue of gender identity and transgender status, which Saks believed fell outside of Title VII’s mandate.

Now Saks is only disputing that there was any discrimination, not that such discrimination was legal. The question posed to me: does this U-turn this look bad for Saks? Is it cynical and unethical? How can you simultaneously argue that what the client alleges isn’t actionable because there’s no law against discriminating against someone for gender identity, and that you didn’t discriminate on that basis, or any basis, anyway? Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights, Workplace

Bias Check

Confirmation bias

Detecting and overcoming one’s own biases is one of the most important features of being ethical. “Bias makes you stupid,” after all, and stupidity can make you unethical. As the author of an ethics blog, this is of special concern to me, as I am constantly making choices that bias could seriously affect. Some of those choices include what issues and events have ethics components, which are most important to publicize, how should the ethical issues be analyzed, what conclusions are fair and reasonable, even how long a particular post should be, what authorities and references should be included, and what style—scholarly? humorous? bemused? indignant? outraged?—will best illustrate a point.

As regular readers here know, I can be harsh, often too harsh, when a commenter dismisses my commentary as partisan or ideologically motivated. First of all, it isn’t, and I resent the accusation. Second, it’s a cheap shot, essentially attacking my motives, objectivity and integrity rather than presenting substantive arguments. Third, it is a simpleminded approach to the world in general, and democracy in particular, and life, presuming that “there are two kinds of people,” and one type is always wrong, while the other type is always right. There is nobody I agree with all the time, and I am far from alone in that trait. People who agree with the same people all the time are not really thinking. They are just taking the easy route of picking sides, and letting others think for them.

Obviously, my approach to controversies, problems and ethical analysis are influenced by thousands of factors, including my parents,  my upbringing,  where I have lived,  teachers, friends, and family members, experiences, books, plays, movies and popular culture, interests  and passions (like leadership, American history, and baseball), what I’m good or successful at and I’m not, and so much else. These are not biases: once such influences mold your way of looking at the world and passing through life, they are, in fact, who you are. I’m comfortable with who I am. I just don’t want biases making me me stupider than I am.

Thus I am always interested in trying to identify where I stand on a the ideological scale. Some of my conservative friends think I’m liberal; all of my liberal friends think I’m conservative. Two sides again: I am confident that it is their place on the scale that leads to those perceptions. Today I encountered another test that supposedly divides liberals and conservatives sharply.  It comes from political scientist and philosopher James Burnham’s  1964 book “The Suicide of the West.” Burnham was one of those radical leftists who did a complete reversal in middle age and became an influential conservative theorist. You are asked to agree or disagree with these 39 statements, and the result reveals your ideological bent.

Here are the questions: Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Quizzes, Race, Rights, U.S. Society, War and the Military, Workplace

Late Deflategate Update: Patriots Owner Robert Kraft Does A Full Corleone

Tom Hagen

Ruthless mob “Godfather” Michael Corleone had lied  to the fictional Congressional committee investigating organized crime. The smoking gun witness who had cut a deal to destroy Michael’s fake stance as a persecuted patriot and honest businessman had just been intimidated into recanting, seeing his older brother sitting with his targets and knowing that if he betrays the Family, his brother’s head would end up in his bed. So lies and corruption have triumphed, and as the scene from “Godfather Part II” fades, Michael Corleone’s lawyer, Tom Hagen, is shouting over the gavel and the crowd noise, to the disgusted and defeated Committee chair,

“SENATOR! SENATOR! This committee owes an apology, this committee owes an apology — an apology Senator!”

This memorable scene was immediately what my mind was jerked back to when I read New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft’s defiant statement regarding his team’s latest cheating scandal, in the section where he said…

“If the Wells investigation is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs, I would expect and hope that the League would apologize to our entire team and in particular, Coach Belichick and Tom Brady for what they have had to endure this past week. I am disappointed in the way this entire matter has been handled and reported upon. We expect hard facts as opposed to circumstantial leaked evidence to drive the conclusion of this investigation.”

I see now from a brief Googling of “Tom Hagen Robert Kraft” that I was not alone, and no wonder. Kraft’s guys have stonewalled, denied, mocked, deflected, tap-danced, and allowed loyal ethics-challenged sportswriters, bloggers and fans to block for them.  Belichick and Brady almost certainly have covered their tracks sufficiently to avoid their just desserts, and Kraft is demanding an apology when it is he who should be apologizing—to the NFL, to opposing teams, to New England, to Boston, and to the fans, for allowing a corrupt and unethical culture to flourish under his ownership. Has any criminal, having avoided conviction because he or she could not be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, had the chutzpah to demand an apology from the prosecution? Did Casey Anthony  or O.J., as despicable as they are, dare to rub society’s nose in their triumph like that? Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Popular Culture, Workplace

STUPIDITY SATURDAY Bonus: The Deflategate Deniers, Excusers, Rationalizers and Corrupters

dumb football fan

[This post took so long to write that I am posting it on Sunday. Pretty stupid.]

Every few months an ethics story erupts that convinces me that I’m wasting my time. I started writing about ethics online in disgust over the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, which revealed to me that no politicians, few journalists and a tiny minority of the public understood the difference between, right, wrong, and a desperate rationalization. I was aghast at the vigorously nodding heads on talk shows when some ethically-challenged dolt would say that “everyone lies about sex” (so it’s okay), or that because other leaders may have had illicit sex, that made it acceptable, or that Clinton deserved special dispensation because he was an effective and popular President, or that he and Lewinsky were consenting adults, or that personal conduct was irrelevant to the job, or that other Presidents had done worse. These were all just lazy, poorly reasoned and culturally corrupting rationalizations, but nobody except a derided few seemed to know it.

So I’ve been writing about these and other ethics issues, including rationalizations, for about 15 years, and nevertheless, when something like the Patriots cheating scandal arises, I hear the same unethical, ignorant crap, as if nothing has changed. And, of course, nothing has. All I can hope to do, in conjunction with others who don’t want to see society devolve into a Hobbesian Hell, is to try to convince enough rational people that we can, by constantly explaining, arguing, and pointing the way, just keep things as barely endurably corrupt as they are now.

I got depressed just writing that last sentence.

The issue regarding the New England Patriots giving their quarterback an edge by cheating—deflating the balls so he could throw more accurately–isn’t controversial or hard to understand. If the team broke a rule that relates to sportsmanship, the fairness of the competition and the integrity of the result, and it is hard to see how it didn’t, then the NFL should punish the team severely. [ The NFL, true to its black heart, has made it clear that its investigation will not allow a resolution of this until after the Super Bowl, meaning that it hopes the controversy will deflate. I’m sure it could resolve all questions and identify the accountable parties faster if it wanted to—it doesn’t want to.] To do otherwise essentially endorses cheating. Moreover, since the team involved has a head coach who has made it clear that he is willing to cheat (having been caught before), that coach must be held accountable for the unethical culture he has nurtured whether he was directly involved in this particular episode or not. This is truly Ethics 101, Management 101, Culture 101, Sports 101—let’s just call it “101.” Yet so many, from the elite among sportswriters to the public that devotes an obscene amount of their passion, time and money to following football just don’t get it. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Professions, Sports, U.S. Society, Workplace

The Special Needs Student, the Compassionate Teacher and the “Awww!” Factor

Debra Fisher

Regular readers here are familiar with the “Ick Factor,” the common phenomenon where a situation that causes an emotional response of revulsion, disgust or fear is labelled unethical when there is nothing unethical about it. Many kinds of conduct are icky, but still on the right side of ethics, if only one can put aside the gag reflex. The reverse of the Ick Factor is the less common “Awww!” Factor, where particular conduct seems loving, caring and nice, but is in fact unethical in one or more respects. Such is the case of New York City special needs teacher Debra Fisher.

In October, Fisher was suspended when e-mails were discovered on the school computer system showing that she had been spending school time raising funds for a special project on behalf of Aaron Phillip, a thirteen year old special needs student who is an aspiring animator with his own blog. The project’s goal was to raise $15,000 for a nonprofit devoted to developing Aaron’s talent, an organization called “This Ability Not Disability” founded and administered by Fisher.

Awww!

The problem was that while her efforts on behalf of the student were supported by the school, Fisher, an occupational therapist at Public School 333 with nine years of service, did not have permission to perform them during school hours. Thus she was suspended for six weeks. Now she is suing the school system for back pay, telling reporters, “I’m just trying to fight for what I believe is right.”

If she believes she is right, then she shouldn’t be working at the school at all, because she is in fact dead wrong.

But awfully nice. Continue reading

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Filed under Charity, Childhood and children, Education, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Workplace

The Sixth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2014 (Part 3)

ellen-selfie

2014 Conflicts of Interest of the Year

  • Conflicted Elected Official: Philadelphia State Senator LeAnna Washington. This is always an entertaining category. Washington was convicted of using her tax-payer financed staff to organize a yearly campaign fundraiser around her birthday party. When one staffer complained that this was illegal, she reportedly replied, according to his grand jury testimony:

“I am the fucking senator, I do what the fuck I want, and ain’t nobody going to change me. I have been doing it like this for 17 years. So stop trying to change me.”

  • Conflicted Journalist: CNN sent Jay Carney, fresh off his assignment as President Obama’s official spokesman, defender and spinmeister, to cover his ex-boss’s speech.
  • Conflicted  “Non-partisan” Watchdog: CREW. The Center For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and its chief, Melanie Sloan, finally came clean (after falsely claiming non-profit status as a non-partisan organization for years) by making David Brock, head of the openly partisan, foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Republican media watchdog Media Matters its Chairman of the Board, essentially merging the two groups.
  • Appearance of Impropriety Award: Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La), Republican Whip. It is not certain yet whether Scalise knowingly spoke to a group of white supremacists in 20o2, inadvertently spoke to the group, or just spoke to another group meeting in the same venue before the David Duke-affiliated group of racists started comparing sheets. It isn’t even clear that Scalise knows, but everyone should agree that it looks awful no matter how you categorize it, making the fiasco a classic appearance of impropriety situation. If the Republicans were smart, they would dump him.

Unethical Attire of the Year

Offensive shirt

This.

Unethical Political Candidate of the Year

Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, whose campaign materials were largely plagiarized from the materials other candidates.

Ethically Clueless Voters of the Year

New York’s 11th Congressional District, which contains Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn. These alert and ethical citizens sent back to Washington thuggish and crooked Rep. Michael Grimm (R), then facing a 20-count indictment by federal authorities for fraud, federal tax evasion, and perjury, having earlier distinguished himself by threatening to kill a reporter and being recorded doing so.

  Unethical Advertising of the Year

Lawyer Division:

Public Service Announcement Division:

TV Program Division:

The Discovery Channel’s campaign for “Eaten Alive!” which did not, in fact, feature anyone being “eaten alive,” or at all.

Private Sector Product Division:

Halos. Or perhaps this is the Child Abuse Division:

Political Campaign Division:

Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for Texas Governor, offered an ad attacking her wheelchair- bound opponent that 1) appealed to bias against the disabled 2) misrepresented the duties of a state attorney general 3) misrepresented the facts of the cases the ad referred to and  4)  deceived the public regarding the ethical duties of lawyers, which Davis, a lawyer, presumably understands. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Childhood and children, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, Quotes, Religion and Philosophy, Romance and Relationships, U.S. Society, Workplace

The Sixth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2014 (Part 1)

Cosby3

2014 was the year of the Ethics Train Wreck. They were coming so fast that they were getting tangled up with each other, and old wrecks from past years started rolling again, or the damage that was triggered a year ago or more started kicking in. I don’t know if every year really is more ethics free than the year before, or that it just feels that way because I’m getting better at sniffing it out. By any standards, it was a wretched year, with epic ethical misconduct across the culture. But I can’t stall any more: let’s wade into it. There will be more installments this year, so the misery is coming in smaller bites. You’re welcome.

Ethics Train Wreck of the Year

trainwreck

It’s a tie!

The Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck and The Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck

The obvious winner is the Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck, which has managed to hook up with the 2012 winner, The Trayvon Martin- George Zimmerman Ethics Train Wreck, as well as a the sub-EthicsTrain Wreck attached to the death of Eric Garner, to further degrade U.S. race relations, undermine the stability of numerous cities, get several people, including the recently assassinated NYC police officers killed, revive race riots, give vile demagogue Al Sharpton unprecedented power and influence, and pick up such distinguished riders as President Obama,  Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, New York Mayor de Blasio. It is also still barreling along at top speed after many months, and is a good bet to continue its carnage well into 2015. 

Yet, it became clear to me this summer with this post that the entire Obama Administration has become an Ethics Train Wreck, and one that is neck-and-neck with the one spawned in Ferguson in threatening short and long-term damage. Incompetence, dishonestly, lack of transparency and arrogance have hardened cynicism in the public, corrupted the ethical values of defenders, let journalists to disgrace themselves, and fertilized festering potential disasters internationally and domestically. This is also, I now see, a wreck of long duration that started in 2009, and had gathered momentum with every year. It also has sparked other wrecks, including the one that now keeps it from being the sole 2014 winner. How much damage will The Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck do in 2015? Which agency or department will prove itself to be corrupt, incompetent and mismanaged, which official will continue in a post after proving himself unfit to serve, which inept pronouncement or abuse of power will further degrade American trust and freedom?

I’m not looking forward to learning the answers.

Fraud of the Year

The U.S. Justice Department, which allegedly participated in a plot to force  Sierra Pacific Industries and other defendants  to pay $55 million to the United States over a period of five years and transfer 22,500 acres of land as settlement of charges brought against the company by DOJ for causing a 2007 wildfire that destroyed 65,000 acres of land in California. Naturally, the national news media has barely covered this scandal, which is still in litigation. Runner Up: The Victoria Wilcher scam, which made KFC pay for plastic surgery for a little girl when there was no evidence that the company was in any way involved with her injuries. After the fraud was discovered, it didn’t dare ask for its money back. Well played, fraudsters! Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Education, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Professions, Rights, Workplace