The situation detailed as per Carol’s involvement with Morris Computer Corporation is a typical example of business dilemmas that professionals face in the corporate world. Such cases and the decisions that have to be made are heavily influenced by the right ethical response to be made, the effect it has on key individuals, and the outcome of such a resolution, if any. A detailed analysis of Carol Curtin’s case, as well as discussion through the lens of an ethical framework, is discussed herein.
There are three main phases in the case of Carol Curtin; the situation, the relationship, and the dilemma itself. All three are interrelated, in terms of the decisions that are made and the course of action to be decided.
Firstly, Carol has been working with Dr. Vue, her advisor, and decides to work for the Morris Computer Corporation, which has worked with Dr. Vue in the past. Carol is allowed to continue to work with Dr. Vue, as well as with the corporation; which leads to major problem. Since she is working with her advisor and for her company, it further complicates the employment situation, since there are conflicting interests. In such a case, she still has an overriding commitment to the corporation, since they are her primary source of income and employment.
Secondly, the relationship between Dr. Vue and the corporation seems to have blurred. Carol has worked with Dr. Vue for many years, and is her advisor, making the relationship more valuable. Nevertheless, she is allowed to work with Dr. Vue and for the corporation, on the condition she does not leak trade secrets, which she is not guilty of as yet. Since Dr. Vue has worked previously with the corporation, there is an affinity between Carol and Dr. Vue, and may be the reason for Carol joining the corporation. However, whether the priority for the corporation supersedes Dr. Vue’s influence becomes a point of inherent contention.
Thirdly, the dilemma of career roadblocks have added to Carol’s intention to progress on her latest project. When Dr. Vue does not cooperate and is seen to be working with a competitor, Carol takes her chances on benefiting from his research. From the outset, it seems that Carol’s use of Dr. Vue’s research for her own personal gain is in breach of anti-competitive legislation. It can also be seen that she is actually ‘stealing’ trade secrets from Compuchip, the competitor of Morris Computer Corporation, by using the innovative design, which would be the property of Compuchip, to use in her project at Morris Computer Corporation. This dilemma seems to be a personal and professional one at best, and a potentially illegal case at worst.
A common business ethics framework to decide what Carol Curtin’s course of action and how to determine what she has done and what can be done to resolve it is Jones’ four-point framework. This comprises a set of rules, including the utilitarian rule, the moral rights rule, the justice rule and the practical rule. Each individually states a certain approach, but still maintain an inter-linking context.
Rule number one, the utilitarian rule, states that the right thing to do in a given situation is whatever produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people. In Carol’s case, it is clear that using Dr. Vue’s research on the innovative chip design in her project will allow the company to implement the project and become commercially and financially successful. This will also benefit customers and shareholders alike, leading to the greater good. Although this is not morally right, it is the utilitarian approach to the situation.
Rule number two, the moral rights rule, takes the opposite approach, stating that the right decision to make regarding any ethical dilemma is what protects the fundamental rights of those affected. In Carol’s case, the main individual who will be affected by her decision is Dr. Vue himself, since he was the originator of the research. Since he has the right to the innovative chip design, Carol cannot use it in her project, regardless of the benefit it holds to the corporation’s project or her current relationship with Dr. Vue. In a sense, this is also in the best interests of the law.
Rule number three, the justice rule, states that the right thing to do is to distribute benefits and harms among people in a fair or impartial way. This depends on the person making the decision, and should be in the best interests of seeking justice to the cause. In Carol’s case, she has one of two choices: she can choose to convince Dr. Vue of the benefits of using his research in her corporation’s project; or she can modify the innovative chip design to suit her project and rename it under a different brand, thus avoiding Dr. Vue altogether. Both these decisions bring justice to the situation, but does nothing to solve the problem of her priority to Dr. Vue or the corporation.
Rule number four, finally, states that an action is determined to be the right thing if it satisfies three tests: firstly, does the decision fall within the acceptable values and standards of business; secondly, is the decision able to be communicated to the public; and thirdly, will the people who are related to the decision-maker approve the final decision. In Carol’s case, the recommended decision would be to discuss the issue with the Morris Computer Corporation’s attorney, as well as privately with Dr. Vue, for the purposes of continuing her employment with the company, sustaining the relationship with her advisor, and avoiding legal breaches in trade secrets. This satisfies test one, since it would be acceptable by her business and by legal standards as well. It also satisfied test two, since even if the decision would go public, both competing companies would not suffer financial or company losses because of a lawsuit, since there would be no need for one. Lastly, the final test is satisfied, since her relationship with the company and her advisor would remain intact.