The Ethics Quiz regarding whether or not it was unethical to take full advantage of United Airlines’ accidental fire sale on tickets spawned several good hypotheticals, including this one, from Tyrone T., an occasional Ethics Alarms commenter who, I happen to know, thinks about these matters as his occupation. I know the answer to this one (I’ve seen it before), so I’ll hold off until you’ve thought about it a while.
Here is Tyrone T.’s Comment of the Day on the post “Ethics Quiz: The United Airlines Give-Away”:
“So, if you are hired by your client to find the cheapest fare, can you act ethically and refuse to take advantage of the error? Consider the following:
“Alexander Mundy is a lawyer and an acknowledged expert in American painting. He has several clients who regularly retain him to negotiate the purchase of museum quality art. Recently, a client hired Mundy to negotiate the purchase of a portrait of George Washington as a young man.
“The client explained, ‘I saw it on a house tour five years ago and tried to buy it then, but the woman who owned it said it was a family heirloom and wasn’t interested in selling. I heard that she died recently and her husband is having an Estate Sale. You have authority to purchase the painting for up to $500,000.’
“Mundy goes to visit the old widower and asks whether he would be willing to sell ‘that picture of the young man there.’
“’I suppose so. My wife brought it with her when we got married. I think it’s a picture of some dead relative.’”
“’How much do you want for it?’”
“’I sure do need some cash. How about a thousand dollars?”’ It is clear to Mundy that the old gentleman has no idea what his painting is worth.
“What should Mundy do?”
a) Say, “Done!” and immediately write a check for $1,000.
b) Advise the old man to get a lawyer.
c) Tell the old man that he should really consider having it appraised before he sells it.
d) Offer $500 and close the deal at $750.